“Tsotsi, the Musical is nothing short of extraordinary”

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‘Tsotsi The Musical’ is nothing short of extraordinary
12 FEBRUARY 2018, 6:03PM / ORIELLE BERRY – iol.co.za

Tsotsi (Mxolisi “Zuluboy” Majozi) and Miriam (Kgomotso “MoMo” Matsunyane).
Puppetry consultant Craig Leo and puppet design by Janni Younge for the baby. Picture: Kim Stevens

With a team that reads the like the who’s who of South African creatives, Tsotsi is the sort of show that ought to be travelling the country and overseas to showcase our remarkable talent.

While Gavin Hood saw the potential of Athol Fugard’s 1950s novel which he turned into an award-winning film in 2005, Michael Williams, Cape Town Opera director, writes in the programme notes that he always had a strong belief that Tsotsi would make a wonderful musical.

The seed was born more than five years ago when he discussed it with Fugard and, more recently, when he reminded him of how extraordinary it would be transformed into a production that remained true to the demands of a musical genre.

The results are nothing short of extraordinary – Tsotsi, the Musical is a superb production that offers a wonderfully edgy contemporary spin on the original. Sadly Williams steps down soon to take up another position elsewhere but this, his swan song, leaves a fitting legacy.

Most people are familiar with the story of Tsotsi, a hardened gangster who stalks the streets of a Johannesburg township, leaving fear and hatred in his wake, along with his gang of like-minded soulless thugs, who live by the gun and the knife. By when a mugging goes wrong and the ruthless criminal finds a baby inside the bag he has stolen, introspection sets in and his moral compass changes direction.

While this is the thread that runs through the show, Tsotsi in its current iteration is much more than that – using the talents of a formidable cast – the story of ultimate redemption is told through rousing music and choruses, thought-provoking songs, snappy moves and high-energy dancing.

It takes the story and turns it into a timeless odyssey of community (or lack thereof), of the tragic aftermath of families cast out in forced removals; of the many forgotten people who are at the bottom end of society, where every day brings a new battle to survive, in the face of criminality and political skulduggery.

Rapper Mxolisi “Zuluboy” Majozi is Tsotsi and makes the most of his musical prowess to adroitly translate the songs on stage; along with that he fits his role perfectly, swaggering on the stage as he makes residents cower on fear; showing his other side as he ponders the ethics of his existence

Bianca Le Grange as Soekie expertly portrays the tough, street-wise shebeen queen, who knows by which rules to play, while Msizi Njapha gives a sensitive portrayal of Boston, the newcomer in town, who is forced to join the band of tsotsis but constantly questions what he is doing as he hankers after his home village.

The 17-year-old Sibuyiselo Dywili plays the young David, and with a similar background of having grown up in a socially disadvantaged family, puts on a star performance as the feisty and fearless teenager.

One of the most commanding presences is that of Tsotsi’s arch-rival, the Nigerian Adedola played by the talented Thembisile Ntaka. She makes her first appearance in an utterly spectacular red outfit as she minces forcefully on to the stage in her matching red stilettos and, together with the ensemble, belts out Mama Debonair, one of those unforgettable moments on the stage.

Lindani Nkosi (familiar to viewers of the TV soapie Generations) skillfully plays the long-suffering wheelchair-bound Morris and Royston Stoffels the equally resigned Akhram, who is not only a migrant but a constant target as the owner of the local spaza shop. Together the two offer some poignant dialogue and song which plays its part in backing the narrative and commentary.

The other stars of the show are undoubtedly those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to create the sets and video designs.

Multi-talented video designer Kirsti Cummings’ work is nothing short of sheer wizardry as she creates authentic backdrops through imaging and mapped projections to create the skyline of Johannesburg, the starkness of the surrounds and the daily grind of life.   Electricity pylons against an orange sky – as the play opens – are almost touchable as they are imaged on stage and in another extraordinary imaged creation, train doors open on stage to pour out the passengers.

Michael Mitchell’s and Neil Coppen’s set design shows the harshness of the township with simple corrugated iron sheets which are moved around as needed, with a few interiors showing the humble living conditions.

Coppen who is co-director with Khayelihle Dominique Gumede and, along with music supervisor Zwai Bala are some of the master-minds behind this production.

This is a utterly compelling performance and despite of, or because of, its grittiness and harshness, a powerful story indeed that offers optimism and hope.

Tsotsi, the Musical is on at the Artscape Opera until February 17. Booking at Computicket.