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Saturday, July 1, 2017


(The Jets: Luxolo Mahlasela, Mhlengi Ngcobo (Riff), Mbuso Nxumalo, Nkondo Mthembu, Buhle Nyembezi, Grace Caputo, Sinegugu Mthiyane & Sfundo Sithole)

Here’s looking forward to the next project! (Review by Caroline Smart)

UKZN’s Opera Studio and Choral Academy (OSCA) together with Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas, US, recently presented West Side Story, written by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The 50-member cast included OSCA students as well as students from SMU and performances took place in the Jubilee Theatre on Princess Alice Avenue on the UKZN campus.

The musical director was Professor Barbara Hill Moore from SMU who organised the production together with director/choreographer Roger Bennett Riggle as well as coach accompanists, Jason Smith (SMU) and David Smith (UKZN). UKZN music lecturer Lionel Mkhwanazi was the associate producer and chorus master. Athenkosi Art Gcingca was the percussionist.

The project started with Porgy and Bess in 2006, and the June 2017 production was the second staging of West Side Story presented since 2011, following Carousel, South Pacific and Oklahoma.

This is an extremely valuable collaboration between the two universities. It engages students, faculty and staff in exploring the challenges of living and working together with people of diverse racial and socio-economical backgrounds. It also provides opportunities for students from both institutions to work together and understand each other’s cultures and ways.

The musical is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and is set in the Upper West Side neighbourhood in New York City in the mid-1950s. It explores the rivalry between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. Tony, a former member of one of the gangs, falls in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the other gang.

Excellent and sensitive performances were given by Julia Durbin as Maria and Ndumiso Nyoka from (SMU). Nyoka is a former OSCA student. Both handled the romantic moments with maturity and credibility.

There were two casts and on the afternoon I attended, I was impressed by the performers’ control and commitment – producing the right amount of anger for the gang scenes and acquitting themselves well in the dancing scenes. This was especially notable as they only had a rehearsal period of just over two weeks!

While all performers handled their roles with professionalism, mention must be made of Mhlengi Ngcobo as Riff, Nomonde Duma as Anita, Senzo Funeka as Krupke and Buhle Nyembezi as Action.

The directors used the limited facilities of the hall to best advantage. The audience was seated on the sides along the walls and the action took place on stage, in the centre of the room and on two sets of rostra. This gave the audience the feeling of being in the midst of the action. Even the lighting gallery was used!

For more information on these collaborations, email

Here’s looking forward to the next project! – Caroline Smart