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SCENE IT: Intriguing STAR+CROSSED at the Artscape

Barbara Loots


It’s not every day that you get to say that you saw a new musical onstage. So it is understandable that the opening of STAR+CROSSED at the Artscape Arena this December has been awaited with great anticipation. It is presented as a joint stage venture by Abrahamse & Meyer Productions and VR Theatrical.

The musical, with book and lyrics by Marcel Meyer and music by Wessel Odendaal, brings to the stage a story of modern star-crossed lovers who make a profound connection during an unlikely meeting: a connection that transcends, time, space, and South Africa’s oppressive history.


Inspired by the eccentric life of Elizabeth Klarer (born in 1910, Mooi River, Natal) —best known for her claims that she had a love affair with an alien and gave birth to his son— STAR+CROSSED tells of the fanciful Bess (based on Klarer) and her more level-headed and revolutionary childhood friend, Billy. They meet each other on a hilltop known for its rumoured UFO sightings at different moments in their lives; moments which are revealed against the timeline of crucial historical political events. Being from different cultural and racial backgrounds, they learn from each other’s lived experiences as they navigate their predominantly separate lives. 


The general concept of this production is an intriguing one with the dreamer Bess only clinging to reality through the limited realism that is the perspective of her forbidden love.  

Bess is portrayed by Isabella Jane whose beautiful voice has a range that most performers can only dream of, while Earl Gregory gifts to the voice of Billy his unquestionable musical theatre talent that can bring impressive depth and soul to any song. Just getting the opportunity to see these two pros take to the stage is already a treat that makes STAR+CROSSED worth seeing.


In placing a rather serious political context at the centre of the story (not truly a love story, but one with affectionate key moments), STAR+CROSSED chooses to avoid the general musical show tune trends one would expect and rather adopts a more muted approach to the telling of the tale. 


Listening to the music, it gives the impression that the creators are strongly influenced by the legends that are the Stephens of musical theatre (Stephen Flaherty, Stephen Schwartz, and Stephen Sondheim that is), as much of the tone setting brings up a feeling one associates with musicals such as Anastasia, Wicked and Into The Woods – or at least I was left with a bit of déjà vu at certain moments that triggered memories of such productions. Don’t get me wrong, any such familiarity is always welcomed as I am a big fan of all the Stephens, but the true charm and potential of STAR+CROSSED as a contribution to the musical theatre lexicon is found in the very catchy song, ‘My Lover is an Alien’. That is however the only slightly cheeky and truly upbeat number of the production: it is that one song that aids in giving STAR+CROSSED a unique sound that adds an exciting beat to the otherwise slower tempo of the show. I would gladly listen to more songs in that style.


The book has the potential to form the basis of a strong production. The chronological elements which feature prominently are perhaps a bit too history-lesson in style rather than being simply a narrative aid. For example, the audience doesn’t need to know when the Romanovs met their sad end for them to understand the time-setting of the story that unfolds between the two characters.

The last 30 minutes, when the feelings underlying the differing life perspectives of the two characters burst to the fore, is the heart of it all and could be the focal point of something truly charming. Up until that point it felt as if the relationship between Bess and Billy provides the background against which the political turmoil of the time is explored, rather than the other way around: I would love to see this musical evolve into a love story more so than a human interest story, as this can be done without negating the gravity of the time in which they find each other. The structure is there; it just needs to lean into the bit of the story that has more heart. 


The scenic and lighting design provide a great canvas within which the tale unfolds with interstellar whimsy. The cleverly minimalistic set design is courtesy of director Fred Abrahamse, with lighting and AV design by Faheem Bardien and Kirsti Cumming respectively. Marcel Meyer is the creative behind the costume design (I would very much like to own Bess’ outfit – it is exquisite), while composer Wessel Odendaal is responsible for the musical direction and orchestration.


A digital Original Cast Album is available on major music platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify.


STAR+CROSSED runs at the Artscape Arena, Cape Town until 31 December 2022. Tickets range from R200 – R250, and can be booked online via Computicket.


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