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Friday, January 17, 2014


Joan Brickhill, acknowledged nationwide as the First Lady of musical theatre in South Africa, passed away peacefully at 15h03 on January 15 at a frail care facility in Johannesburg.

Her career spanning over 60 years was unparalleled and uniquely South African.

For over 20 years, she and her husband Louis Burke were the dominant force in musical theatre including an heroic battle to save His Majesty’s Theatre for seven years. From the mid 1960’s to the mid-1980s, they staged a prolific series of long-running and outstanding productions.

Aside from being a successful producer and director, Joan is primarily remembered as that rare phenomena … a genuine theatre star … a “triple threat” singing, dancing, acting performer who could illuminate the stage and guarantee sold-out houses. She came to national attention as the epitome of glamour for over a decade as the star of a series of Minstrel and Follies Extravaganzas. She then went on to enjoy her greatest triumphs as Miss Hannigan in Annie, and the title roles in Hello Dolly and Mame.

Born in the heartland of KwaZulu-Natal in 1924, she quickly became a child star, winning “most talented child in the country”. Her honours and awards were many:  twice winner of the Best Radio Actress, twice winner of Best Performance in Musical; nominated for a Tony Award on Broadway for her choreography in Meet Me In St Louis; and the original musical Meropa – KwaZulu played the Royal Command Performance before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during its long run in London, and the University of Tshwane bestowed an honorary doctorate upon her.

Despite being the consummate all-round performer and professional, highly skilled in a dizzying array of disciplines from costume design to casting, it was as a discoverer and mentor of young talent that she felt she was uniquely gifted and proud. Her biography is nearing completion and will be available shortly.

Her capacity to handle a glamorous, highly theatrical and seemly effortless descent down a long staircase was unsurpassed!

There will be a private cremation next week and later this month there will be “the end of a long successful run” party and memorial service which will be announced shortly.