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Wednesday, December 16, 2020


(Roland Perold, Jaco Griessel, Anthony Downing, Blessing Xaba, Amanda Kunene, Samantha Landers & Leah Mari)

It was a fascinating experience listening to unknown numbers with strong lyrics being performed with excellence and quality. (Review by Caroline Smart)

I recently had the extremely pleasurable experience of attending the first presentation of Stories 2020 initiated by Durban singer/songwriters and performers, Roland Perold and Leah Mari. The event was held in the Seabrooke’s Theatre on December 13, 2020.

Perold has been seen in a number of KickstArt Theatre productions and Mari is currently appearing in Little Red …… goes down in the woods, which is running at OnStage@Altitude.

(Left: Leah Mari & Roland Perold. Pic by Jacobus van Heerden)

Perold remembers meeting Mari a while back when her mother asked him to talk to her daughter about musical theatre writing. Stuck at home during Covid-19 Lockdown, he came up with the idea of planning a showcase. He contacted Mari on Zoom and things developed into Stories 2020.

The presentation is a collection of original songs written by musical theatre composers from South Africa. 

The contributors are Perold and Mari themselves as well as Jaco Griessel, Wessel Odendaal, Marcel Meyer, Anthony Downing, Samantha Landers and Luca Hart. Joining as performers are Amanda Kunene and Blessing Xaba.

(Left: Jaco Griessel)

It was a fascinating experience listening to unknown numbers with strong lyrics being performed with excellence and quality.

Perold sang one of my favourites, Put Pen to Paper written by Griessel who accompanied him. He also performed Where Will It Be? by Odendaal which focuses on Covid and its future impact. His own work, Gay Away, which he performed with the tall and powerful Xaba is about two priests and has very funny lyrics and the duo does full justice to them.

(Right: Blessing Xaba)

Xaba also appeared in I Wanna Play a Man written by Perold and Mari. One of the top numbers that would be a great hit in any musical theatre work, it is highly dramatic and Xaba acted it beautifully.

Another of my favourites was the fast-paced and wordy I Hope you Die – written and performed by Mari which showed her strong comedy skills.

(Left: Samantha Landers)

Landers is no stranger to Durban audiences and the show proved that she is also a good songwriter. Her powerful voice gave justice to Nocturne written by Meyer and Griessel taken from Eugene O’Neil’s adaptation of Anna Christie. She appeared with Downing in For the First Time, a great piece that they co-wrote. They also sang together in You Suddenly by Meyer which showed off Downing’s crooning voice. An audience favourite was My Devoted Heart by Hart sung with a sexy tango rhythm.

(Right: Anthony Downing)

Meyer’s songwriting was also to be enjoyed with the wistful and gentle Song in the Attic performed by Mari. The piece comes from a collection of songs called History Girls that he is working on.

The undoubted star of the presentation was Amanda Kunene (who was playing Nala on an international tour of The Lion King before COVID caused the production to be suspended). She excelled in One Thousand Paper Cranes, a very powerful message of frantic hope sung with much poignancy and passion, written by Meyer from the History Girls collection.

(Left: Amanda Kunene)

On a softer level, she performed the love song When you Say “Hi” written by Mari who accompanied her at the piano. Kunene and Mari then sang Taking the World by Storm about two people – a soccer player and an agoraphobic – and their outlook on life. This was another Perold and Mari songwriting collaboration.

However, it was Bird Song which probably topped the bill for Kunene. Written by Meyer, it’s a song from a production he is working on called Just Nuisance where the sailor visits a nightclub singer with his dog (the famed Great Dane, Just Nuisance, the only dog ever to be enlisted by the Royal Navy). Bouncy and powerful, Kunene did full justice to it.

All congratulations are due to Perold and Mari for generating this extremely valuable project. After a highly enjoyable and fascinating programme of new songs celebrating South African songwriters, where to from here?

“We would like to recreate the event in Cape Town, and Johannesburg. And keep writing so that this can become an annual event. Creating musical theatre songs that work dramatically takes skill, but that’s the fun part! The challenge is to find a way to bring it to an audience that isn’t used to new works, or work in development,” says Perold.

“We were extremely happy with the response and glad that we pushed through with a live performance. You cannot fake a collective laugh or gasp from an audience, and that’s the magic of live theatre we all want to return to as it becomes more and more safe to do so”.

“We would love more composers to join. This is not an exclusive group and songwriters are encouraged to get in touch.”

Contact Roland Perold via