West Side Story Artscape Theatre

In March after popular demand, producer and human rights activist Eric Abraham and the Fugard Theatre’s production of West Side Story returned to the Artscape. The American musical has been performed in Cape Town before and audiences raved about the brilliant actors, singers, dancers, music, and sets!

Jerome Robbins – Choreographer

Grant van Stern – Choreographer

Artscape Theatre

Artscape is one of my favorite performing arts venues in Cape Town. The theatre opened in 1971 as the Nico Malan Theatre Centre. It was renamed in 2001 and now belongs to the Western Cape Government.

Officer Krupke and Detective Schrank

The spectacular opera house has an exciting ambiance, including gardens, rehearsal rooms, and a stylish foyer. Over the years, I’ve joined friends there for memorable opera, ballet, musical, and comedy performances! Last night’s brilliant performance didn’t disappoint!

Eric Abraham – Film, Television, Theatre Producer

Stephen Sondheim – Songwriter

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“West Side Story is a musical about cultural differences, racism, forbidden love, revenge, and death.”
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Arthur Laurents – Screenwriter

Plot

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story’s timeless plot is set on the “harsh streets of New York City’s Upper West Side in the 1950s”.

Rival street gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and Caucasian Jets, battle in a turf-war to gain control of the neighborhood. Tensions rise when Tony, a former member of the Jets and best friend of the leader, Riff, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, leader of the rival Sharks.

Production

American choreographer Jerome Robbins conceived the story in 1957, and playwright and screenwriter Arthur Laurents wrote the West Side Story book. Renowned composer Leonard Bernstein created the musical score with lyrics written by songwriter Stephen Sondheim.

Michael Brenner – Producer

The 1961 film version of West Side Story “won 11 Academy Awards, including best picture, best supporting actor and actress, best director, and best cinematographer”. The film also won a Grammy for best soundtrack. It’s undoubtedly one of the best musicals ever written.

Louisa Talbot – Choreographer

South Africa’s Matthew Wild directs the Artscape production with Charl Johan Lingenfelder as musical director and conductor of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. Louisa Talbot choreographed the production with Grant van Ster as resident choreographer and dance captain.

Charl Johan Lingenfelder – Musical Director and Conductor

In 2018, West Side Story is once again “sweeping Capetonians off their feet”! How could it not with the fabulous Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra performing in the pit and an outstanding cast of forty exceptional performers?

Cast of Characters

Lynelle Kenned plays the role of Maria, a hopeless romantic who falls in love with Tony and finds herself at the center of a violent conflict between the Jets and Sharks. Kenned won the Fleur du Cap Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance. Among her many talents Kenned is a soprano opera singer with a marvelous voice!

The main character Tony – former Jets leader – is torn between his gang friends and love for Maria. The part is played by talented US actor Kevin Hack who has performed the role almost 400 times. Hack recently completed an international tour playing in the 60th anniversary international tour of German producer Michael Brenner’s production of West Side Story.

Matthew Wild – Director

Singer, pianist, violinist, dancer, and actress Bianca Le Grange plays Anita, Maria’s friend and Bernardo’s girlfriend. Daniel Mpilo Richards plays Bernardo, proud leader or the Sharks.

Leonard Bernstein – Composer and Conductor

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“The choreography exudes vibrant waves of emotion from act to act leaving its audience’s heart thumping!”

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Artscape Foyer

Artscape Theatre Centre Cape Town

Artscape Foyer Upper Level Lounge

Sculptures Artscape Entrance

The actors are multi-talented with impressive accomplishments and careers. The beautiful, strong dancers were magnificent!!! Main characters include:

  1. Lynelle Kenned – Maria, Bernardo’s sister in love with Tony
  2. Kevin Hack – Tony, former Jets leader in love with Maria
  3. Bianca Le Grange – Anita, Jet, Bernardo’s girlfriend, Maria’s friend
  4. Daniel Mpilo Richards – Bernardo, Shark leader, Maria’s brother, Anita’s boyfriend
  5. Stephen Jubber – Riff, quick-­tempered Jets leader
  6. Sven-Eric Muller – Diesel, Jets second-in-­command
  7. Craig Urbani – Schrank, police detective
  8. Richard Lothian – Officer Krupke, beat cop
  9. James Borthwick – Doc, owner of the store where the Jets hang out
  10. Clint Lesch – Chino, Jet, Maria’s suitor, and friend of Bernardo
  11. Logan Timbre – Action, quick-­‐tempered member of the Jets

West Side Story Artscape Willem Law Photographer

It was an interesting, eclectic crowd attending the performance – an evening of entertainment by extraordinarily talented young artists! Many more than mentioned here helped with production of the musical.

Cape Town International Jazz Festival

Next weekend Artscape hosts the 19th Cape Town International Jazz Festival. The exciting lineup includes Alistair Izobell, Amanda Black, GrazRoots Project, Blinky Bill, Claire Phillips, Miles Mosley, Nduduzo Makhathini, Mabuta, Louis Moholo, and many more outstanding artists!

Cape Town Opera at Simonsig Wine Estate

Although the time in Hermanus is peaceful and wonderful, I miss Cape Town’s energy and incredible performing arts venue. It’s only a two-hour drive, but unsettling not knowing what weather might occur while crossing Sir Lowrys Pass at night. Wind and fog on the Pass can be fierce, and there are no lights or dividers along the two-lane freeway. If something happens, you’re toast.

Martin Mkhize Baritone

Abongile Fumba Mezzo Soprano

When I heard that Cape Town Opera was performing at Simonsig Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, I jumped at the chance to attend the performance! Although I still had to cross the Pass, it’s only about an hour away. The fact that it was a dinner concert at Simonsig’s Cuvée Restaurant was an extra added delight.

Simonsig Wine Estate Vineyards

Simonsig Wine Estate Vineyards

Cuvée Restaurant

Simonsig Wine Estate Vineyards

Simonsig Wine Estate

Singers from Cape Town Opera appear at Simonsig every year performing arias and ensembles from well-known operas and musicals. The spectacular opera program was entitled “Love In All Its Splendour 1750 – 1950”. It was thrilling to be so close to the singers while they performed! I don’t have friends in Hermanus interested in opera, so I went on my own.

Sir Lowry’s Pass

There were about 8 tables seating 12 or so people and I sat at a front table with five couples – four German and one South African. Everyone at the table was a transplant from Germany. I’m sure that, except for me, everyone spoke fluent German, Afrikaans, or both. The Germans were interesting and I enjoyed our conversations. One German woman had a small vineyard specializing in champagne and another a PR firm. Most of them lived near Paarl in the small town of Windmeul (Windmill). The South African couple was friendly and interested in my African travels.

Simonsig Wine Estate

I’ve seen several Cape Town Opera performances at Artscape Theatre and have never been disappointed. The Germans were a bit critical of the diction and pronunciation of some singers. The MC for the evening was quick to notice. Before she introduced the second set she discussed the libretto (text of an opera) explaining that many were written so long ago that even native speakers don’t always understand every word. The singers were brave to perform for a small audience of discerning Germans.

Thomas Mohlamme Bass

Cape Town Opera singers have performed internationally at festivals and productions throughout Europe and the world. I spoke briefly with Melanie Daniels, Cape Town Opera Development Manager, who said it had been difficult to find venues in the US.

Sir Lowry’s Pass

I’m not an opera expert but enjoyed every song performed and thought the singers were all magnificent!

Frances du Plessis Soprano

Program Before Main Course

Cecilia Rangwanasha Soprano

Program Before Dessert

  • Giuditta – Franz Lehár Solo Cecilia Rangwanasha
  • Paganini – Franz Lehár
  • Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) – Franz Lehár
  • Camelot – Lerner & Loewe
  • West Side Story – Bernstein Solo Johannes Slabbert
  • Porgy & Bess – Gershwin
  • Der Vogelhändler (The Bird Seller) – Zeller

An amazing pianist, Paul Ferreira, accompanied the singers.

Nkululeko Masuku Tenor

Nonhlanhla Yende Mezzo Soprano

The talented singers included:

Cuvée Restaurant

I enjoyed the entire program. Johannes Slabbert’s Maria from West Side Story was magnificent. The bass, Thomas Mohlamme, has a mesmerizing voice, and the sopranos, especially Frances du Plessis, were all amazing. It was a memorable evening!

Johannes Slabbert Tenor

Cape Town Opera’s Carmen

Mezzo Soprano Violina Anguelov Carmen

Mezzo Soprano Violina Anguelov Carmen

Cape Town Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s popular Carmen is glorious! It plays through October 29 at Artscape Theatre and I attended the sold-out Saturday evening performance with a friend. The spectacular production was dedicated to the memory of Carolyn Holden, flamenco choreographer and founder of La Rosa Spanish Dance Theatre. Holden devoted her life to dance. She died an untimely death in 2013 at the age of 50. She choreographed the Opera’s 2005 and 2011 productions of Carmen.

Carmen Billboard

Carmen Billboard

Renowned author and award-winning Opera Director Michael Williams did a spectacular job managing the opera’s staging. On the creative side, Set and Costume Designer Michael Mitchell’s “atmospheric designs conjured up a hot and sultry Seville”.

Carmen and Don Jose

Carmen and Don Jose

The large cast included the adorable, talented Erub Children’s Choir, magnificent soprano, mezzo, tenor, and baritone choruses, and a company of flamenco dancers who brilliantly performed the late Carolyn Holden’s choreography. The always remarkable Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra led by renowned British conductor Tim Murray accompanied the scintillating operatic performance!

Mezzo Soprano Violina Anguelov Carmen

Mezzo Soprano Violina Anguelov Carmen

The cast performed exceptionally well. Mezzo-soprano Violina Anguelov – Carmen – and Canadian Tenor Luc Robert – Don José – gave bold, flawless performances clearly delighting a happy audience!

Soprano Noluvuyiso Mpofu’s voice is hauntingly beautiful in the role of the complex and betrayed character Micaëla. William Berger’s rich baritone voice well-portrays Don José’s rival, the flamboyant bullfighter Escamillo!

I enjoyed every moment during another evening of incredible Cape Town entertainment!

A Steady Rain – Fugard Theatre

Actors Brent Palmer and Nicholas Pauling

The Fugard Theatre’s powerful production A Steady Rain doesn’t disappoint. I attended the pre-opening of playwright Keith Huff’s award-winning Broadway hit last night and was transfixed by the high-quality performance! Before the Fugard run, actors Brent Palmer and Nicholas Pauling performed the two-man play for sold-out audiences at the Alexander Bar, Café & Theatre.

Palmer and Pauling are brilliant in the “gritty, rich, and entirely gripping noir tale of two morally compromised Chicago police officers whose inner need to serve and protect consumes them and rips them apart”. The play takes place with two actors and a simple set of three props (two chairs and a table) highlighted by excellent lighting. The scenes alternate between “separate monologues and present-moment dialogues” requiring the actors to memorize an incredible amount of text. They slay the Chicago accent!

Nicholas Pauling and Brent Palmer

Nicholas Pauling and Brent Palmer

After years as a successful actor, including a role in the television series Black Sails filmed in Cape Town, Adrian Collins makes his début directing the production. Collins and Palmer were Fleur du Cap award nominees this year for Best New Director and Best Actor.

A Steady Rain takes the audience on a “riveting, relentless journey”. Huff uses “razor-sharp story-telling” to portray the tormented lives of two Chicago police officers, Joey and Denny, who are longtime beat partners and childhood friends.

Director Adrian Collins

Director and Actor Adrian Collins

“Joey and Denny have serious problems. Joey struggles with alcohol while he secretly obsesses over Denny’s wife. Denny is resentful, aggressive, and a racist cheater. During the course of the compelling and devastating narrative, the audience is kept white-knuckled right until the moment the lights go down”.

Nicholas Pauling and Brent Palmer

Joey and Denny

The plot recounts a real-life event involving infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s encounter with the Chicago Police. It focuses on the policemen who “unknowingly return a Vietnamese boy to the cannibalistic serial killer who claims to be the child’s uncle”. When the boy becomes Dahmer’s latest victim the two partners are pressured to take responsibility for their gross negligence in assessing the situation. As the play unravels it reaches a critical point threatening their friendship.

Bret Palmer - Denny

Brent Palmer – Denny

Writer, director, and actor, Brent Palmer is a native of the Western Cape. He grew up in Grassy Park, a suburb of Cape Town in Cape Flats. He trained to be an actor in London. Palmer has appeared in TV and film and stared in theater productions at the Baxter, Artscape, Fugard, Maynardville, and University of Cape Town’s Little Theatre.

Nicholas Pauling-Joey

Nicholas Pauling – Joey

Palmer has written four plays. Two of his plays – Bench and Witness – won Fleur Du Cap awards. The multi-talented Palmer is also a stand-up comedian. He appears at local theatres and has directed and co-written shows for other comedians.

Produced in Chicago in 2007, the acclaimed play won multiple awards. It made its Broadway début in September 2009 starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig.

In a compelling and right-on-the money review of the play Steven Oxman of Variety (magazine) observed, “Keith Huff’s cracker jack two-hander … turns out to be less like the perpetual drizzle of its title and more like a snowball that builds to an avalanche. While Huff starts with a couple of familiar characters — good cop/bad cop Chicago patrolmen with alcohol and racism issues — he deepens them into complex figures, compellingly human even at their most despicable. The adroit character development combines with a billowing narrative to deliver some rattling emotional crescendos…. While he could maybe pull back on a contrivance or two, the playwright smartly sticks to his conceit of piling one worse complication on top of another, effectively investing A Steady Rain with genuine dramatic power and a sense of true outrage.”

Loose strands of the spellbinding plot draw together in the play’s masterful finale. It wasn’t light entertainment but gripping, well-performed drama at its very best. Cape Town has provided an incredibly rich live-theatre experience during this visit!