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Wednesday, October 15, 2008


(Pictured: Faca Kulu, Mandla Manzi, Bonga Zulu, Thabani Mhlangu, Phumlani Mkhize and Sifiso Mngadi)

Catalina offers enjoyable, refreshing and entertaining show with new talent. (Review by Caroline Smart)

The acappella musical comedy Native Blues, currently running at the Catalina Theatre, offers an enjoyable evening’s entertainment with some good harmony singing, refreshing dialogue and a line-up of new talent for mainstream theatre.

Director Faca Kulu is to be congratulated on presenting a well-structured, professionally performed and engaging production. He has drawn on his own personal background to create this story of a singing group called the Native Blues. While he was born in Kwa Mashu, his parents were originally from Two Sticks in the Umkhumbane (Cato Manor) area.

This is the second production written by the multi-faceted Faca Kulu, his first being Bus Stop Blues which appeared on the main National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 1995.

Native Blues opens with two argumentative old men re-visiting their past. The link with Umkhumbane is that this is where Manyoni (Phumlani Mkhize) met and fell in love with the unseen Lizzie, his wife of 44 years. His long-term friend Manzini Faca Kulu maintains that it was through him that Manyoni met up with Lizzie in the first place through Native Blues being invited to perform at Umkhumbane. The opening of the show rattles along with their good-natured banter and muddled memories of the past.

Faca Kulu and Phumlani Mkhize are no strangers to the professional stage and they were both involved with the smash-hit musical The Lion King - Faca Kulu with the original New York show and Phumlani Mkhize with the Johannesburg production.

They are well-supported by a welcome line-up of new talent in the form of Thabani Mhlangu playing natty dresser Sguqa of the wide smile and falsetto voice; Mandla Manzi as the card sharp Socca; Sifiso Mngadi as the volatile Nsimbi, and Bonga Zulu as Mathambo, the peacemaker of the group. Good to see such a well-directed group of new faces appearing in their first professional production after having worked on many township projects.

Singing in close harmonies, the cast do full justice to a line-up of songs such as Fly Away to My Home, Music is my Soulful Joy, Blind Love is Dangerous< and I Found Love Again. Expect some nifty group shoe shuffle as well! I was particularly delighted to see the lack of microphones and the ability of the cast to increase their vocal projection to rise above the thundering on the roof caused by a sudden downpour. The only problem I have with the show is that the lighting is not all that it should be.

The production is filled with amusing one-liners such as Manyoni’s assertion that his memory is like an elephant’s - in fact it’s so good that even the elephants consult him! And “Don’t talk about my successes, my failures are more interesting!” Every time the young Manyoni comes up with what the group considers is a fairly outlandish idea, Manzini caustically remarks: “Another dish in his menu!” and there’s opt-repeated theme: “Money talks, bullshit walks!”

While this is an ensemble piece, take time to observe each character. Every actor has a clear individuality which remains strongly identifiable without upsetting the balance of the group work.

Native Blues runs at Catalina Theatre, Wilson’s Wharf until November 2. Tickets R70 (R35 concessions) with Buy One Get One Free offers on Tuesdays and Sundays. The production is available for corporate block bookings, charity fundraisers and show/meal deals. Bookings through Thandeka on 031 305 6889 or 031 305 7612 or email or

The Catalina Theatre is still functioning thanks to the generosity and support from Rainbow Chicken. It is good news that Ethekwini Municipality and the National Arts Council have now also provided sponsorship for a specific period. – Caroline Smart