Londiwe Dhlomo is no stranger to the world of entertainment. An actress, singer and dancer of note, she’s made her mark on the theatre industry, and continues to do so with her most recent role of Killer Queen in WE WILL ROCK YOU. As Cape Town gears up to be amazed by this musical at the Artscape Theatre this May, the vibrant Dhlomo shares some insights about her love for musical theatre and the show.
Although Dhlomo has graced our screens too, she shares that she does have a particular fondness for the stage, which is deeply rooted in her sense of family. “I have always had a love for music and theatre, because it’s been a part of my family ever since I could remember. I guess my first theatrical troupe would have been with my siblings.” This tightly bonded troupe, would rehearse and put on shows for their parents and grandparents. This pathed the way for Dhlomo to find the magic in musical theatre when the opportunity presented itself with her primary school’s staging of Les Miserables. If you are surprised that a primary school tackled a legendary production such as Les Mis, you are not alone and definitely did not misread:
“Yes, we did Les Mis as a primary school production, sans swear words of course. I fell in love with the music and the idea that you could combine singing acting and dancing to tell a story. Plus, Les Mis is phenomenal, so there’s that.”
Phenomenal indeed, and it takes an equally phenomenal young entertainer to recognise this and embrace the path that it offered to a future career. That career has taken her to the stage in musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors, Cabaret, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Matilda the Musical. For Dhlomo, the appeal of musicals is found in “the opportunity to combine different performance disciplines in order to tell a story”, using singing, acting and dancing. Entertaining people using all three these forms of expression is Dhlomo’s favourite thing about musicals, because when a triple threat merges with musical expression, the magic is found in the fact that “no two shows are the same and that’s a great feeling on stage”.
That dynamic aspect of theatrical expression she now embraces with her role of Killer Queen in WE WILL ROCK YOU, revelling in the freedom of expression that comes with the opportunity of stepping into a villain’s shoes. Killer Queen gives her a bit more scope to play and have fun with the character without the boundaries set by a hero-type role:
“I absolutely love playing the villain. I feel like I have been missing out my whole career. I definitely think the villain gets to have a lot more fun. I feel like I have experimented a lot more with this character and really enjoyed the entire process. Villains definitely have more scope to play with from vocal choices to physical ones. I’m not afraid to alienate the audience a bit, because my job is not for them to love me… it’s just a bonus if they like the character, even just a little bit.”
This villainous liberation she gets to share with fellow performer Craig Urbani who plays Killer Queen’s second in command, Khashoggi. Dhlomo describes the opportunity to act alongside Urbani as amazing, “he is brilliant on and off stage”. She admits that it was a bit intimidating at first, but Urbani’s hilarity and reliability as a performer has made the collaboration onstage easy: “He makes you feel so at ease and that’s a great quality that I really appreciate”.
Apart from the great opportunity Killer Queen brings to perform with Urbani, it also gives Dhlomo the chance to claim a spot in history alongside Vicky Sampson who stepped into the shoes of Killer Queen in the 2006 South African staging of WE WILL ROCK YOU. From this perspective, performing Killer Queen does have a daunting element, Dhlomo shares:
“I mean, to follow a legend like Vicky Sampson is no small feat, and to be honest I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be up to the task. Vicky is a phenomenal vocalist so obviously I had to take some inspiration from her in that regard. I went into work every day (and I still do) telling myself that I would give the performance my all and hopefully I am doing the role justice.”
With that determination to embrace the role of Killer Queen fully, Dhlomo brings her own kind of magic to the role. In fact, she shares that WE WILL ROCK YOU generally grants performers the opportunity “to inject a bit of ourselves into these characters”. This Dhlomo regards as particularly true of this latest staging, as this particular cast takes to the stage in the reimagined version of this hit musical, as directed by Nick Winston:
“We had the opportunity to build the characters up from scratch and it’s inevitable that you would add a bit of yourself to it. I’d like to think that I bought some sexiness to the role, I definitely know that I bought some weirdness to it, because I can be quite odd at times. I love that I got to play with every strange thought I had, some worked and some didn’t.”
Dhlomo has had the opportunity to introduce her revitalised Killer Queen to the world already, as the cast first did an international WE WILL ROCK YOU tour, before bringing it home to South African audiences. The reception, Dhlomo says, has been rather exceptional, as people love the timelessness of the music along with the fun that the story brings, all now taken to another reimagined level: “Whether they’re hearing the music for the first time or reminiscing on times passed, audiences can’t help but be fully immersed in the show.
WE WILL ROCK YOU, is set in a dystopian future, where earth is controlled by a Globalsoft Corporation and renamed iPlanet. Considering that freedom of expression is such a big part of theatre and music and that in some parts of the world that freedom is being seriously oppressed, apart from being a fun night out at the theatre, this reimagined revolutionary rock musical is more relevant now than perhaps even the creators could foresee. Dhlomo definitely regards the story as relevant, as “we will always need a reminder that we must fight for the things that are truly important”.
She regards freedom of expression as always standing at the centre of it all, being challenged, as “human beings struggle with ‘different’ and the bohemians epitomise individuality”. That also amplifies the importance of all to fight for self-expression, “whether it’s in small ways like the way we dress or more important ways like sexuality, politics and religious matters”, as “no one should have the power to dictate what we listen to or how we choose to live our lives, as long as we aren’t encroaching on the rights of others”. That sentiment is at the heart of WE WILL ROCK YOU, emphasising that powerful realisation in a fun and entertaining way.
Even though the message may be a weighty one, Dhlomo does explain that the story being told remains a fun one: “In a world where everything is commercialised and basically plastic we are reminded to value the things that are meaningful and really move society forward.” If the world can realise that with a bit of a rock beat, why not?!
Queen’s music definitely brings that beat. Dhlomo, a fan herself, even before taking on the role of Killer Queen, believes Queen’s music can appeal to everyone: “Queen has so many eclectic musical influences in their music that I refuse to believe that a person can’t find at least one song that they love by them.”
We are willing to bet that only loving one Queen song is the exception and not the rule. Once you’ve discovered the appeal of their music, the love for the songs just keep expanding. Dhlomo has experienced this in her performance too. Apart from the song Killer Queen, she’s found that the song Another One Bites the Dust is also a Killer Queen anthem:
“It’s also my favourite to perform. To be honest. It’s a challenge every night, and I love that about the song. I probably have a favourite musical moment for every character in the show.”
For Dhlomo part of the power of Queen’s timeless music is that it “transcends cultural boundaries and time”, making it more than just generic rock. “I think the band’s varying backgrounds helped them make music that would appeal to a lot of people while actually saying something meaningful”, she continues. “The music almost feels prophetic at times. It’s a band of brilliant musicians who came together to make timeless music.”
It is then no surprise that Dhlomo feels South Africans will love this show:
“South African audiences should come and see this show because it’s great. Not only is it a fun night out but you will have a chance to experience world class entertainment by an all-South African cast, band and crew. Everyone involved in this show is operating at their optimum to make sure that you love every moment of it. It truly is world class.”
To bask in the magic of WE WILL ROCK YOU –with music and lyrics by Queen, and story and script by Ben Elton– you can book your tickets online through Ticketmaster to see it onstage at the Artscape Theatre from 6 May to 4 June 2023.