Theatre review: Showcase season of History Girls, new musical, March 2021
|History Girls -musical- South Africa- 2021|
What: Showcase season of new South African musical –Bianca Flanders [book], Marcel Meyer [music and lyrics], director [Marcel Meyer] When: March 17-27, 2021 Where: The Galloway Theatre, Waterfront Theatre School, Cnr Port & Alfred Roads, Cape Town, 8001, Cape Town Featuring: Students from Waterfront Theatre School Presented by: Abrahamse & Meyer Productions, Tally Ho! Productions and The Waterfront Theatre School Tickets: R120 via Tixsa https://embed.tixsa.co.za/event/history-girlsNsAb23W
It was thrilling to see History Girls, a NEW musical. How exciting is that? A new musical, out of Cape Town, during Covid. Book is by Bianca Flanders, music and lyrics by Marcel Meyer and Fred Abrahamse is in the director’s seat. History Girls is being staged as a showcase season at the Waterfront Theatre School and features students from the college. The showcase season is presented by Abrahamse & Meyer Productions, Tally Ho! Productions and The Waterfront Theatre School.
History Girls traces journeys of 11 women: Nongqawuse [South African prophetess]; Josephine Baker [American singer/civil rights activist]; Frida Kahlo [Mexican artist]; Mother Teresa; Indira Gandhi [Prime Minister, India], Anne Frank; Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Margaret; Elizabeth Ann Eckford [civil rights activist, part of the ‘Little Rock Nine’, a group of African-American students; 1957; the first black students to attend classes at the formerly segregated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas] and Sadako Sasaki [victim of bombing of Hiroshima; who folded one thousand origami paper cranes before her death in 1955]. These women made their own pathways through dark times; with resilience, fortitude, and hope. Well, Queen Elizabeth and Elizabeth Ann Eckford are still alive [March 2021]. The book by Bianca Flanders taps into multi-layered narratives of these individuals. It is a joy to listen to the lyrics and music by Marcel Meyer. The design and lighting is breathtaking. It was a revelation for me to see the Galloway Theatre stage stripped back, revealing the beautiful architectural lines of the heritage building.
Marcel Meyer describes History Girls as a “concept musical”. He cites Stephen Sondheim who described his 1991 musical, Assassins as “A book musical masquerading as a revue.” Meyer said that he wanted to write a musical which resonates in terms of lockdown but which is not a lockdown musical and which conveys a sense of hope and resilience through the telling of these stories. Anne Frank was locked down; hidden. Sadako Sasaki was locked out by her illness and confined to being treated for her illness. Josephine Baker was locked out – by racism in her home country, America. She found sanctuary and acceptance in France and was a member of the French Resistance. Meyer: “History Girls is a musical celebrating the resilience of the human spirit – of courage – of overcoming the unthinkable, of making a lasting difference and leaving the world a better place for the next generation. Each of the characters in this musical need to overcome enormous obstacles in their lives – each of them do, and all of us are richer human beings because of their incredible contributions as leaders and humanitarians. So, in essence the entire musical moves with Anne Frank, from the longest night, through a series of trials and tribulations to a metaphoric Spring Equinox where day and night are equal in length – and with spring also comes the knowledge of rebirth and regeneration.”
Meyer says that he was intrigued that Queen Elizabeth was locked down during World War II, isolated and now she is going through another lockdown, during the pandemic: “In 2020 the Queen was 94 years old and in lockdown in Windsor Castle, and from 1940 to 1945, during the height of World War II she and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, were also in lockdown – separated from their parents – in Windsor Castle.” These women went through dark times and overcame. Well, that is correct in an allegorical sense in terms of Anne Frank’s story. Her family was betrayed and was sent to Auschwitz. She did not survive. Her fighting spirit is what we get to take home, from History Girls- her positivity, imagination and sense of self.
Impressive nuanced character performances by students of the Waterfront Theatre School. Characters are vividly evoked –through performance and voice. At the moment, because of Covid, there is no mainstream musical theatre happening. I urge producers to check out the talent at the Waterfront Theatre School. Often one sees a musical and one cannot recall faces as they all look and sound alike. I think it is testament to the teachers at the WTS that they have honed the individual strengths of their students. Great seeing the college at work on this new musical; during lockdown.
In terms of length, I feel that there is room for substantial trimming in the 1st half. The stories come alive for me in the 2nd half, when the narratives are linked and intertwined. I question the refrain of His-Story versus Her-Story- ie women have been side-lined in history and now it is time to hear their stories. That is correct but the featured protagonists were/are strong and inspirational humans and we can move away from gender as the musical progresses. History Girls has a South African vibe. It is not only the featuring of Nongqawuse, but there is also Queen Eliz and her links to SA, Cape Town; the Ghandi family etc .
In South Africa, resources are not exactly abundant for the development of theatre in general. Musical theatre takes time, money and a great deal of work. In lockdown, most creatives, working in live performance, experienced a cessation of income. A big round of applause to team History Girls for bringing this musical to the stage, during Covid. I was immersed in the stories and music. The songs/lyrics are fabulous. I hope that History Girls sparks interest with funders and that it can be staged with a full treatment of musical theatre bells and whistles. Read the interview with Marcel Meyer, about the genesis of the musical, by clicking here: https://thecaperobyn.co.za/interview-marcel-meyer-talks-about-new-musical-history-girls-march-2021/
History Girls- creative credits –March 2021 at the Waterfront Theatre School- showcase season
Book: Bianca Flanders
Music and lyrics: Marcel Meyer
Director: Fred Abrahamse
Musical director/arrangements/lighting design: Jaco Griessel
Choreography: Sarah Falconer
JEANNE – Lara Visagie NONGQAWUSE/LITTLE JO – Onela Metuso JOSEPHINE – Hlumelo Yawa FRIDA – Megan de Waal TERESA – Zoë Gray INDIRA – Tyral-Lee Miggels LILIBET – Jeani Heyns MARGARET ROSE – Sarah Falconer ANNE – Tiffany Miller ELIZABETH ANN – Siya Makakane SADAKO – Zoë Chetty