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!

Abdullah Ibrahim Master Musician

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim‘s solo performance at The Fugard last night was captivating! The beautiful piano was setup in a cozy theatre illuminated by soft blue lighting. With almost a sellout performance Ibrahim held delighted jazz enthusiasts captive with 1.5 hours of incredible uninterrupted sets. The distinguished musician’s performance was impeccable. He began with sheet music but quickly pushed it aside and played from his heart and soul.

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

At 82, Ibrahim’s fascinating life has been full – from his upbringing in Cape Town’s District Six to his political activism, spiritual enlightenment, and friendship with Nelson Mandela, association with other famous jazz artists including Duke Ellington, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and John Coltrane, extensive worldwide tours, and his record and production companies.

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

“Ibrahim’s solo program Senzo is described as a monumental defining work. It transcends category, combining the intimate and universal in a unique way hinted at in its title. Senzo means ‘Ancestor’ in Chinese and Japanese. The word echoes the name of Ibrahim’s Sotho father, in whose language it translates as ‘Creator’.”

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

Baptized Adolph Johannes Brand, Ibrahim was born in 1934 in Cape Town. He grew up listening to traditional Khoisan songs, Christian hymns, and gospel tunes.  His grandmother was the pianist for a local Methodist Episcopalian church. His mother was the choirmaster.

Sathima Bea Benjamin

Sathima Bea Benjamin

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Ibrahim, who also sings, plays flute, saxophone, and cello, is legendary for solo performances that glide his compositions into long, unbroken sets.

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Fugard

Fugard

Ibrahim’s mother was from a “coloured” (mixed-race) family. In adulthood he discovered that his Sotho father was murdered. Ibrahim says “There was heavy, simmering racism – anti-African feeling – in our communities. My grandparents gave me their name so I’d be classified as coloured. I thought they were my parents and grew up believing that my mother was my sister. That code of silence was created by the system. I had a lot of bitterness at an early age.”

Cape Town Jazz Orchestra

Cape Town Jazz Orchestra

“The Cape Town of Ibrahim’s childhood was a melting-pot of cultural influences, and exposed the young Dollar Brand, as he became known, to American jazz, township jive, Cape Malay sounds, and classical music. Out of this rich blend of the secular and religious, the traditional and modern, Ibrahim developed a distinctive style, harmonies, and musical vocabulary that are inimitably his own.”

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

Ibrahim began piano lessons at seven and made his professional début at fifteen. He played bebop with a Cape Town flavor and formed several bands including the Dollar Brand Trio and the Jazz Epistles. Formed in 1959, the Jazz Epistles included saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, trombonist Jonas Gwanga, bassist Johnny Gertze, and drummer Makaya Ntshoko – all notable South African musicians. That year, he met and first performed with vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin. They married six years later.

Abdullah Ibrahim

Abdullah Ibrahim

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Ibrahim plays an increasing role as an educator in a still deeply traumatized country.

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“After the notorious Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, mixed-race bands and audiences were defying increasingly strict apartheid laws. Jazz symbolized resistance, so the government closed a number of clubs and harassed the musicians. These were difficult times for musical development in South Africa. Some members of the Jazz Epistles fled to England with the London musical King Kong and stayed in exile.”

Jazz Epistles

Jazz Epistles

In 1962, with Mandela imprisoned and the ANC banned, Dollar Brand and Sathima Bea Benjamin left the country. Later, Gertze and Ntshoko joined them and the trio took up a three-year contract at the Club Africana in Zürich, Switzerland. There, in 1963, Sathima persuaded Duke Ellington to listen to them play. This led to a recording session in Paris – Duke Ellington presents the Dollar Brand Trio – followed by invitations to perform at key European festivals and on television and radio.”

In 1965, the couple moved to New York and appeared at Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival on the West Coast. In 1966 Dollar Brand led the Ellington Orchestra in five concerts followed by a six-month tour with the Elvin Jones Quartet. In 1967 Ibrahim received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to attend the renowned Julliard School of Music.

Life in the USA gave Ibrahim the opportunity to interact with progressive musicians, including Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Ekaya, and Pharaoh Sanders. In exile Ibrahim introduced his South African sounds to American musicians, including saxophonist Archie Shepp and drummer Max Roach. “Even though he was successful on the club circuit, by his insistence on a South African idiom he disseminated and created an appetite for South African music.”

In 1968 he returned to Cape Town, converted to Islam, and took the name Abdullah Ibrahim. In 1970 he made a pilgrimage to Mecca and then moved his family to Swaziland where he founded a music school. Ibrahim returned to Cape Town in 1973.

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District Six was the hotbed of the jazz explosion, a “fantastic city within a city”

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Cape Town Jazz Orchestra

Cape Town Jazz Orchestra

In 1974 Ibrahim recorded “Mannenberg – Is where It’s Happening” which soon became an unofficial national anthem for black South Africans. After the Soweto student uprising, in 1976, he organized an illegal ANC benefit concert. Before long he and his family left South Africa and returned to the freedom of New York again.

“In 1990 Nelson Mandela, freed from prison, invited him to come home to South Africa. He reflects the fraught emotions of acclimatizing there again in Mantra Mode (1991), the first recording with South African musicians since 1976, and Knysna Blue (1993). Ibrahim memorably performed at Mandela’s inauguration in 1994.”

Abdullah Ibrahim has been the subject of several documentaries. In 1986 a BBC film Chris Austin’s A Brother with Perfect Timing, and A Struggle for Love by Ciro Cappellari (2004). He has also composed scores for films, including the award-winning soundtrack for Claire Denis’s Chocolat (1988) and Idrissa Ouedraogo’s Tilai (1990).

For over a quarter-century Abdullah Ibrahim has toured the world extensively, appearing at major concert halls, clubs, and festivals. His collaborations with classical orchestras have resulted in acclaimed recordings, such as my favorite African Suite.

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Since he first fled South Africa in 1962, Ibrahim’s increasingly spiritual and meditative jazz has won followers across Europe, the US and Japan.

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Currently Ibrahim divides his time between Cape Town and New York. In addition to composing and performing, he started a South African production company, Masingita (Miracle), and established a music academy, M7, offering courses in seven disciplines to educate young minds and bodies.

In 2006 he spearheaded the historic creation (backed by the South African Ministry of Arts and Culture) of the Cape Town Jazz Orchestra. “The eighteen-piece big band further strengthens the standing of South African music on the global stage.”

South Africa’s Abdullah Ibrahim is known as “a man of inspiration”.