Madiba The Musical
Music, Lyrics and book by Jean-Pierre Hadida
Director Pierre-Yves Duchesne
State Theatre Sydney
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
A musical about Nelson Mandela? What can you expect?
Usually with an unfamiliar work, I would view it with no expectations, but when it’s the musical story about someone as significant and well-known as Nelson Mandela, there must be a degree of anticipation.
Would Madiba The Musical include music in the style of Graceland by Paul Simon?
Would it bear any musical similarities to The Lion King?
Would there be rousing, inspirational anthems as in Les Miz?
It would be easy for an actor to turn an interpretation of Nelson Mandela into a caricature, but Perci Moeketsi’s version is respectful and understated and projects inner strength. Also, he absolutely nails the intonations, inflections and characteristics of Mandela’s voice. How many hours did he invest in watching and listening to Mandela’s speeches?
Ruva Ngwenya as Winnie Mandela, Tim Omaji as Sam, Tarisai Vushe as Sandy, and Blake Erickson as Peter Van Lenden all have amazing singing voices that sometimes soared through the State Theatre.
Even though we all know the story, the plot takes the entire first act to be established and starts to become interesting when the star-crossed lovers are discovered by Helena Van Leden’s father. Barry Conrad as William and Madeline Perrone as Helena have been perfectly cast and that scene in the second act is the first time that the audience would experience emotion. Even in the depiction of the mass slaughter of black South Africans in the first act, the tension wasn’t as strong as the human interest element.
The key role is The Narrator is played by David Denis who clearly was not cast because of his South African accent. Denis was chosen for his skills as a dancer, singer and acrobat. In this regard, there are some questions around the production.
In South Africa in 1959, was there a prevalence of rap music and break dancing? It’s as if the producers found an outstanding talent and built a role around those skills despite irrelevance and inappropriateness.
A small proportion of the music sounded like it was inspired by Africa. Most of the songs could easily slot into the American Musicals genre.
If you see Madiba The Musical, don’t expect a musical blockbuster of the magnitude of Kinky Boots, Beautiful or Jersey Boys. This is low-budget, with most of the scene changes being facilitated by illustrations being projected on the cyclorama.
Each member of the cast of seventeen is hugely talented and the production makes the most of this. If I were to see Madiba The Musical again, I’d arrive just in time for the start of the second act.