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SCENE IT: Theatre done the Malagawian way… Spectacularly!

Barbara Loots


Everyone needs a bit of old school theatre glitz in their life every now and then, and what better than a Cape Town Opera production to bring just that! So off I went on Saturday, 5 September 2015, to the opening of The Merry Widow of Malagawi.

I must admit up front that my theatre heart stops for just a moment when told that a classical production like The Merry Widow is getting a make-over. The word ‘adaptation’ most often than not sends a shiver down my spine, but with a cast and crew as amazing as that of The Merry Widow of Malagawi, my curiosity got the better of me and I just had to see it…

Director, Janice Honeyman, describes the show as “new, vibrant and topical”, and that it is! I was captivated by the magical world filled with intrigue, love triangles and comedy from the moment the ‘vegetarian delight’ curtain (as per Alan Committie’s description) lifted following the beautiful mating call of the live orchestra in the pit.

The legendary Honeyman, assisted by the uber talented Tara Notcutt, has really brought out the best in this amazing cast. Their energy and operatic vibe actually made me bob my head a few times in a way I thought only 'Up Town Funk' could.

This show is exactly what the new generation of theatre fans need to get them hooked on opera. To be fair, The Merry Widow is an operetta, not an opera, but with its relatable, modern, and most of all, fun take on a well-known story, this is definitely an opera gateway drug for the younger generation. Let’s hope this also leads to a fresh take on the soprano that takes what feels like 4 arias to die in classical operas. I would love to see adaptations of classics like La Traviata in such a vibrant style... though a few purest may want to stone me for saying that.

As you can tell, the word ‘adaptation’ may have less of a sting for me after last night’s experience at the Artscape Theatre. Cape Town Opera has converted me, and a huge part of that is the result of seeing Elizabeth Llewellyn (the widow Anna), Aubrey Lodewyk (Daniloh), Mandla Mndebele (Chief L’zitho) and Filipa van Eck (Valencienne) totally embrace their roles and hit all the right notes in a spectacularly entertaining fashion, all while Alan Committie is being his hilarious 1st Secretary self as the narrator. Honestly, I don’t know how they sing so beautifully without bursting into fits of giggles.

An extra ‘Bravo!’ also to maestro, Tim Murray, because live theatre of this nature would just not be as magical as it should without the presence of the orchestra. Because of you Sir and your talented orchestra members, we did indeed leave the theatre singing and dancing the Malagawian way!

One aspect of this production that stands out is the sheer magnificence of the set… a proper set. Nothing in the form of minimalistic vision, re-envisioned existentialism or just screaming budget constraints. It is old fashioned colourful, grand, theatre opulence … and I’m talking sail boats (plural!) size in degree of opulence! Hats off to scenic artist Juanita Ferreira (who assisted set designer Michael Mittchell with the Malagawian set design) and the rest of the scenic painting team, Ashley Zamisa, Siya Gocini, Kathrin Kobinger and Yolandi van Jaarsveldt, for the beauty they brought to the stage. Magnificent work!

Oh and have I mentioned the production even has puppets by the Ukwanda Puppets and Design Arts Collective? They will reveal themselves to you in a moonlight shadowy fashion, just at that moment when you think “Wow, this experience just could not get anymore magical”.

Actually, this operetta has it all! Just thinking back on the beauty both in sound and vision I get excited about the fact that I am seeing this production again this week. Yes, I was so blown away I have booked to see it again.

Dress up, dress colourfully, but more importantly just show up for this Cape Town Opera production, because you definitely don’t want to be the one person who can’t talk along when Cape Town is buzzing … “Did you hear Alan Committie is the thinking man’s Eminem? Yes, he actually raps in the Merry Widow!”

So to avoid being that person, book now, as in right now, at Computicket to see the spectacular The Merry Widow of Malagawi at Artscape Theatre before run ends on 12 September 2015. Tickets range from R125 to R320. Remember to grab a glass of bubbles and a bite to eat at the Artcafe before the show.


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