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Friday, March 15, 2013


(Faca Kulu as Jesus Christ with the full cast. Pic by Val Adamson)

New gospel opera-musical offers a robust and energetic yet wholly sincere look at the Passion of Christ. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Presented by Catalina UnLtd in Durban and funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, the new gospel opera-musical, The African Passion, had its world premiere last night at the start of a four-performance Durban season before it sets off on a nationwide tour.

The production offers a robust and energetic - yet wholly sincere - look at the Passion of Christ. It is based on the Gospel according to St John and the choral masterwork will feature close to a hundred voices on stage in every city on the tour.

The African Passion is created by such artistic heavyweights as Themi Venturas (director and librettist); and associate composers Phelelani Mnomiya and Anthony Govender of Destiny Music as well as the Young Mbazo (grandchildren of world-renowned acappella group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo). The musical styles range from choral and gospel to light jazz and hip hop … and then some!

The production team also includes choreographer Daisy Spencer, Desiré Govender as vocal director as well as the technical design team, Wired Media, who provide the visuals played onto the back screen.

It’s an ambitious production and, thanks to a well-chosen cast, succeeds in telling this age-old story in yet another way while still maintaining due respect and compassion. While the action takes place on the stage, the combined choral ensemble of the Umlazi Oasis Church Choir and the Clermont Choir is split up and placed on scaffolding either side of the stage.

Faca Kulu’s portrayal of Jesus Christ gives us a man of stature, passion and humour. The humour comes out in the highly enjoyable Last Supper scene. He’s real, we can relate to him – especially in his moments of despair when, in his final hours, he feels his God has forsaken him.

Good to see Grant Jacobs back in town and putting in a fervent performance as Simon Peter who has to undergo so much soul-searching. Another welcome face back on the Durban stage is Natalia da Rocha giving dignity to the role of Mary, the mother. Dewald von Solms and Caitlin Kilburn impress as Pontius Pilate and his wife, while Babuyile Shabalala as Herod has a hectic scene full of disco lights and wild music!

In good voice as the Pharisees are Blessing Xaba (Caiaphas), Aubrey Lodewyk (Annas) and Bonakele Edward Lungu (Eleazar) as well as Sharon Dee who plays Mary Magdalene. Playing disciples when they aren’t townsfolk, soldiers, revellers or members of the mob are Simo Dlamini (Thomas); Jabulani Mthembu (John), and Nkosinathi Mnqayi (Judas).

I have a few quibbles, the most irritating of which was the erratic sound level which often blasted our consciousness out of the story and into technicalities. I thought the “puppet” style figure of Jesus jerkily ascending the mountain carrying his cross very distracting - a still figure would have been more powerful. The visuals of Roman-styled columns and multi-storied buildings in a square didn’t logically fit with Zulu spears, beer pots and toyi-toying.

However, these are minor issues in what is a highly worthwhile production.

The African Passion runs until March 17 at the Umlazi Oasis Fellowship Centre. Performances Thursday to Friday at 19h00, Saturday at 14h00 and 19h00 and Sunday at 14h00. Tickets R100 @ Computicket.

The African Passion is produced by Catalina UnLtd in Durban has been funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund. It is supported by Safm; The Daily News / Argus / Star Tonight; Vuma 103 FM and DSTV channels: One Gospel Television; Dumisa TV; Soweto TV; 1KZN TV and Nelson Mandela Bay TV.

The tour includes Port Elizabeth (PE Opera House: March 21–24); Cape Town (Baxter Main Theatre: March 28-31); Soweto (Soweto Theatre: April 5–7); Johannesburg (Jo’burg Theatre: April 11–14), and Mafikeng (Mmabatho Civic Centre: April 18–21). A further run back in Durban from April 26 to 28 is still to be confirmed.

Charities, churches and fundraisers are encouraged to use the show to raise funds for their organisations. Those interested should contact the national sales manager of The African Passion, Ailsa Windsor on 083 250 2690 or – Caroline Smart