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Calling Me Home

South African Talent delivers Superb Original Musical

by Louw Mulder

Anthony DowningThe Nelson Mandela Stage at the Joburg Theatre made history when it staged the World Premiere of Calling Me Home, presented by Shy Music. This production, 100% local, is one of the finest gems ever produced on an SA Stage. It weaves different cultures, different musical genres, into one classical masterpiece.

Based on her own book, Alice Gillham composed this musical opera, and the true African touch was laudably present throughout both acts, giving this show the patriotic magic we all need in South Africa. It tells the story of Grace, part of an African family, leaving home to live the American dream. A true love tale unfolds when she meets Raphael, and together they face the challenges of war, the underground club scene, as well as death and tragedies along the way.

Samantha PeoThe music is what will be most bespoke of Calling Me Home. The music and powerful lyrics are a huge force in this production and make for an unforgettable theatrical experience. Characterised by sweet and melodious harmonies, this Pop-meets-Classical African infused musical score, creates a warm and unique depth to its numerous themes. With a cast of 35 of our country’s finest, the intended solo’s, duets, and full African choir sounds, were delivered boldly, yet soft on the ear.

Freshlyground’s Zolani Mahola plays alongside West Side Story’s Lynelle Kenned, who created the perfect Opera and African fusion. With added names to the cast like tenor Musanete Sakupwanya and the classical pop voice of Michael McMeeking, the leading cast was set to bring this score of so many elements together. Disappointedly though, poor sound during the opening night’s performance muffled many of these harmonies, taking away the powerful interpretation of those compositions.

It was however Samantha Peo and Anthony Downing who stole the show, defying all technical odds the production may have been faced with. The finesse, style, and simply the class of Peo accentuated her experience as a performer, evident in the way she consumed the audience’s attention. The same can be said about Downing. The passion and total conviction in his performance, was fervent, hugely attractive, and his talent and abilities even more so.

Michael McMeekingThe collaboration between Peo and Downing, was another great example of a superb Pop vocal, added to a powerful classical tenor’s, to create the perfect, inimitable harmony.  The chemistry in the duets between Downing and Kenned, was just as remarkable, with nothing less that can be said between McMeeking and Downing.

With the calibre and class of Musical Opera, Calling Me Home is, nothing can be taken away from the rest of the cast. Well-known names feature in this show, like Christiaan Snyman, Carly Greame, Pierre van Heerden, Clint Lesch, Tankiso Mamabolo, as well as up and coming talent like Given Nkosi, Zion Zuke, Yollandi Nortjie and Len-Barry Simons. It was also nice to witness the #CallingAStar winners, Dihan Schoeman (18) and Tannah Levick (16), starting to live their musical theatre dream as part of the extra ensemble cast. There is no doubt that the diversity, professionalism and standard of this cast, were key to the success of Calling Me Home.

Lynelle Kenned and Zolani MaholaJustifiably, a lot of work and thought went into the set design, lighting design and production design of this musical, and impressively so. Calling me Home is without a doubt a full scale production, which collectively encapsulate the talent and potential it stages. From gripping, captivating war scenes, to riveting, anxious fighting scenes, even the blissful, enthralling African nature was created in real life to augment the fascination.

Even though the running time of the show is somewhat long, the direction of SA super soprano, Magdalene Minnaar, was focused, detailed, and spellbinding throughout the whole 180 minutes. With Calling Me Home being Minnaar’s international debut as a musical director, she has positioned herself as a force to be reckoned with. In Minnaar’s own words, it is her mission to reinvent the face of classical music in South Africa, and with Calling Me Home, her first step was in fact a giant leap towards this goal.

This production of Calling Me Home is an original, never before staged musical, and besides one or two miniscule teething problems, Minnaar and her team created and presented a South African production, which we all can be immensely proud of.

Calling me Home will be running at the Joburg Theatre until 4 September 2017. Tickets are available at Webtickets or at the theatre.

Click on the images below to see more, with credit to the photography skills of Oscar O’Ryan.

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