Author and Composer: Jean-Pierre Hadida
Book by Jean-Pierre Hadida and Alicia Sebrien
Original director: Pierre-Yves Duchesne
Current director: Dennis Watkins
Musical director: Michael Tyack
Produced by Neil Croker
Canberra Theatre to 24 November
Reviewed by Len Power 22 November 2018
Madiba: The Musical is a colourful, energetic show with good acting and fine singing and dancing.
Originally produced in France in 2016, the show has been adapted into English by Dylan Hadida and Dennis Watkins, who also directed this production. It plays at a good pace with some excellent set pieces and artistic back projection, some of which is well-animated.
Percy Moeketsi gives a fine performance as Mandela and is particularly moving in his final solo song. David Denis is a charismatic personality as the Narrator, effortlessly singing complex rap songs while performing amazing feats of athletic choreography. Ruva Ngwenya is a strong Winnie Mandela and has some arresting songs in the first act but unfortunately has less to do in the second act.
Tim Omaji is very appealing as the young activist, Sam, and Blake Erickson gives a strong vocal and acting performance as Peter Van Leden. Tarisai Vushe is especially fine as Sandy and Barry Conrad and Madeline Perrone are touching as the inter-racial young lovers, William and Helena. The ensemble sing and dance with great energy and skill.
The choreography by Johan Nus was nicely staged and danced by the cast. Musical director, Michael Tyack, ensured the score was played very well and the sound balance between musicians and performers was fine.
A musical about South African icon, Nelson Mandela, has to deal with the fact that Mandela was a quietly charismatic figure. He was not a colourful and dramatic personality that would be easy to musicalize.
The musical moves too quickly through his early life and focusses on incidents from about 1960 when Mandela was 44 years old. He spends a major part of the musical’s timeline in jail so other characters dominate much of the action of the show. Many of the book’s scenes seem like padding and some characters change their outlook on racial issues too suddenly to be believable.
The musical score is uneven. The songs with African rhythms are the most successful and enjoyable. Other songs are written in a conventional Broadway style that seems at odds with the subject matter. Some of the lyrics are quite banal.
The production values and skilled cast are Madiba's strong points and it’s quite enjoyable but the book and musical score still need fine tuning before it will really soar.
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