TSOTSI, THE MUSICAL. Presented by Cape Town Opera. Based on the book by Athol Fugard. Directed by Neil Coppen and Khayelihle Dominique Gumede. With Mxolisi  “Zuluboy” Majozi, Bianca Le Grange, Msizi Njapha, Busisiwe Ngejane, Katlego Letsholonyana, Thembisile Ntaka, Thembalethu Zwele, Kgomotso “MoMo” Matsunyane, Royston Stoffels, Lindani Nkosi, Ayanda Nhlangothi and Nhlanhla Mahlangu. Choreography: Thandazile “Sonia” Radebe. Lyricist: Mkhululi Mabija. Music: Zwai Bala. Artscape.

MEGAN FURNISS reviews

This is the review I don’t want to write. This is the show I wish I had loved without reservation. This is the piece I so badly wanted to be brilliant. Tsotsi, the Musical, in spite of all the absolutely great things about it, is ultimately a failure of a musical, and this makes me sad.

'Tsotsi, the Musical'

Tsotsi, the Musical is presented by Cape Town Opera based on Athol Fugard’s novel, with music composed by Zwai Bala and book and lyrics by Mkhululi Mabija. It is directed by Khayelihle Dominique Gumede and Neil Coppen and is performed by a star-studded cast led by Mxolisi “Zuluboy” Majozi. Just reading the programme made me salivate.

After navigating the dangerous building site that is Artscape (can somebody please tell me why anything needs to be built instead of spending that money on shows?) we took our seats in the packed drama theatre.

When the house lights dimmed and the first extraordinary visual of powerlines emerged and moved towards us I took a deep breath and sat upright in my seat. But by the time interval came around, at least an hour and a half later, I was happy for the break, and reluctant to go back inside.

There is no doubt that the story is a great one; a man grown hard hearted and ruthless, because of his terrible personal history, is moved and changed when a baby is thrust upon him. The story survives the transition to stage really well, and the book, I thought, was the best part of the writing. But Tsotsi, the Musical does not survive the songs, lyrics and music.

I loved almost all the aspects of this production, except for the musical parts.

Beautiful ensemble moments

Gumede and Coppen have managed to get extraordinary performances from the cast who work so beautifully in ensemble, and who have very moving solo moments. I was amazed by Majozi, who has transitioned from hip hop and TV to the stage so fluently. I adored Kgomotso “MoMo” Matsuyane as Miriam. She portrays this Zimbabwean mother with such layered complexity. I loved the young David played by Sibuyiselo Dywili, and really, everybody else, except for Bianca La Grange who was seriously miscast, resulting in it feeling like she was in a completely different show.

I loved Neil Coppen’s trademark design, with brilliant moving images, a powerful set, the rain, the tiny detail of the interiors, the terrifyingly realistic puppet, the use of height. I loved the genius creation of scenes like the one on a train, which integrated video, choreography, powerful performance, teamwork and lighting to make pure theatrical magic.

'Tsotsi, the Musical'

I loved the choreography by Thandazile “Sonia” Radebe. Her work moved from edgy and stark to whimsical and poetic and even non-dancers worked well in the big ensemble moments. She managed to put a spin on the more traditional song and dance numbers, and the final ZCC reimagined church circle at the end was my favourite.

I absolutely loved the lighting of this production – trademark Neil Coppen, executed by Kobus Rossouw. I love the risky notion of doing so much in the semi-dark. This allows the human brain to visualise more than what is obvious. The lighting is a moody character of its own here.

I mostly loved the costumes, especially those of Tsotsi’s gang and Adedola, but didn’t love Soekie’s massive ‘fro.

Even though there is a strange imbalance with some of the secondary characters involved in the subplot having long and repetitive scenes, I still loved some of the scene work, and found myself moved to tears a couple of times through the show. I just wished so much that they hadn’t randomly dissolved into songs.

Those songs though. Everything is wrong with those songs.

Missed connections

This work doesn’t even feel like a musical. There is absolutely nothing that holds it together musically/ thematically. It feels like the drama is interrupted by song and music. The style of the music is all over the place, swinging wildly from an attempt to recreate traditional musical moments, like the duets sung in different places but at the same time, to the sing speak of an opera, to the mash-up of a more contemporary sound with weird jazz progressions that are seriously difficult to follow, let alone sing. To be honest, most of the songs sound horrible. My absolute worst of them was the song that was sung while two hard core gangsters are attempting to rape a woman.

'Tsotsi, the Musical'

The music is accompanied by terrible lyrics. While the rest of the book is really well written and, in some places, beautiful, moving and harrowing, the lyrics bring all of this down. Sometimes lyrics are used to tell vital pieces of information, missed because they cannot be heard properly. Sometimes a beautiful scene will be repeated all over again in song. Sometimes the lyrics bring jarring discord to the action by explaining it in song. The lyrics offer very few insights into the characters, are boring and trite, don’t seem to be connected to the music in any way, and also don’t seem to scan properly.

Then there is the problem of casting non-singers in leading roles. While Majozi’s performance is so, so good, it is glaringly obvious that everyone has to work around the fact that he can’t really sing. The same goes for other parts, where other cast members try, and fail, to sing. Horrible. Then, when you have an amazing performer/singer like Matsuyane she ends up singing songs that are so challenging to sing let alone like.

This is a musical that fights with itself and loses. And it is a shame, because the extraordinary work on it deserves a better vehicle.

What: Tstotsi, the Musical

Where and when: Artscape from 8 to 17 February 2018

Book: Computicket

WS