Theatre review: LAMTA Awakening, Theatre on the Bay, Cape Town, South Africa, November to December 2020

Show: Awakening Featuring: Students of LAMTA (Luitingh Alexander Musical Theatre Academy) Where: Theatre on the Bay When: November 25 to 28 and Dec 1-5, 2020 Tickets: R150 Bookings: e-mail or call Sharon at 066 5641816 Show duration: 80 minutes. No interval. Covid check in: Arrive early for temp checks etc. Masks: Yes. No mask; no entry.

In ‘normal’ years, three shows are presented by students at LAMTA (Luitingh Alexander Musical Theatre Academy), at the end of each term. LAMTA is on the premises of Pieter Toerien’s Theatre on The Bay. With the pandemic and National Lockdown, on midnight March 26, theatres went dark and LAMTA could not showcase students work on stage. Throughout lockdown, the work continued online, initially with students working at home and then when regulations were eased, they went into the studio, with small groups.  Would it be possible to stage a public showcase, celebrating their hard work or would another lockdown bring the curtain down again? Hoping for the best, LAMTA started rehearsals for Awakening, around the beginning of October.

The students working with choreographers, Duane Alexander [of LAMTA], Hope Maimane, Ashley Searle, Grant van Ster and Shaun Oelf have achieved wonders. In my opinion, this is the best LAMTA show –ever- in the year of Covid-19 and a very hard lockdown.

The show, begins with a mash-up of three pieces- under the banner of The Fall –masterfully choreographed by Hope Maimane. Within this sequence is the haunting refrain “21 days”. We thought that we were in lockdown for 21 days and then everything would unlock and be okay.  Squeals of laughter from the audience as we shake our heads at what we thought and what occurred. We are riveted by the figures on stage. The pledge of the 21 days is bookended, near the end of the show, by lyrics from Seasons of Love, from Rent [music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson]:

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure? Measure a year?

How do you measure a year?  Awakening evokes the lows, dark days and the hope of emerging from the confusion and uncertainty. It is evocative, nuanced and way above a student show. Niall Griffin’s costumes chart the shifts. Starting with sleek, sexy black gear, the wardrobe is shot through with bursts of colour –first denim and then the palette becomes saturated with reds and yellows. The hard-copy programme mirrors this – starts black and white and ends with bright splashes of colour. Griffin’s design provides a parallel narrative to the dance/chorography and striking lighting (Faheem Bardien).

Ashley Searle [of the Kalk Bay Theatre] has choreographed two knock-out pieces – major lifts and highs, throws and tossing. It is difficult to process this level of dance athletic-ness and artistry with students who have been in lockdown. Humour is interwoven throughout this show- news footage, loony clips, memes and ditties that we sent and received on WhatsApp and social media – the things we did to laugh and distract ourselves – people’s exercise routines, contraptions, clowning in the kitchen. It is very funny to watch now- not that long ago. There is a tap set, with the dancers in denim sun dresses, matching masks and playfully spritzing each other with sanitiser. Lots of fun.

Then there is the hilarious and brilliant Shell Shocked Tango– words and lyrics by Duane Alexander- based on the song Cell Block Tango by Kander & Ebb from Chicago– the 1975 musical. In Chicago, the women prisoners justify and explain why they murdered their husbands – one hubby chewed gum – for example -which irritated her. She couldn’t take it. “He had it coming…” In Alexander’s lockdown version, “he had it coming” because … well – all the things that made people crazy in a household unit. People had to control themselves and not act out of frustration- against spouses, kids and other irritants. We were all at the edge. We can relate. The dance is sensational. Simone Neethling, Morgan Marshall, Tannah Levick, Tarah O’Brien, Chante Hart and Anna Oliver are fabulous as the lockdown shell shocked jailhouse gals – terrific Cape Town accents. If this was posted on YouTube, it would go viral.

It was great to be back at Theatre on the Bay and sit in the beautiful theatre again. As I write, there is a surge in Covid-19 infection rates and the plea for us to ‘stay safe’ and act with caution- santinise, wear masks etc. Every step we take out of our homes; we take a measured risk. It is a personal choice. As I have said before, I feel safer at the theatre than at the supermarket. Temperature checks are taken at the theatre. TOB is vigilant – providing detailed forms- asking all the questions – ‘have you got a cough, had contact with a Covid infected person etc.’ Pens are sanitised, after each use. We are living with the pandemic and that is how it is.

I loved Awakening. I applaud the hard work, students and creatives. I applaud the concept and direction by LAMTA’s Duane Alexander and Anton Luitingh. Huge work went into this show – AV, staging, arrangements, backtracks, programme. If you are able to venture out of home and are in good health, get to Awakening and enjoy this superb show.

Simone Neethling (left) and Morgan Marshall (right) in Shell Shocked Tango, Awakening, staged by LAMTA at Theatre on the Bay, Cape Town, South Africa, November to December 2020. Shell Shocked Tango- words and lyrics by Duane Alexander, based on the song Cell Block Tango by Kander & Ebb from Chicago- the musical. Photo: Gustav Klotz.

The Sounds of Silence, Left to right: Robert Everson, Ché-Jean Jupp, Michiel Bester, Stuart Brown and Michael Stray, Awakening, LAMTA at Theatre on the Bay, Cape Town, South Africa, November to December 2020. Photo: Gustav Klotz.
Production and Creative Team:

Concept & Direction – Duane Alexander & Anton Luitingh Musical Director –Anton Luitingh Choreography & Staging – Duane Alexander Costume Supervisor – Niall Griffin Lighting Designer – Faheem Bardien Set Supervisor – Niall Griffin Sound Designer – Robin Shuttleworth Costume Assistant – Frances Moerdyk Lighting Operator – Progress Mphande Sound Operator – Cara Dowling Radio Operator– Morné Kruger Vocal Coaches – Amy Campbell, Kurt Haupt & Anton Luitingh Publicity & Marketing – Ingrid van Blerk Video Contributors – Joshwideawake, 60 Minutes Australia, Charlie Hopkinson, News24, According to Science, Worldometers, Tiago Teixeira, Josh Ricks and various tiktok contributors.  

Song credits:

World Turned Upside Down – Music & Lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda The Fall – Hope Maimane with music & lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda & Son Lux Mad World – Music and Lyrics by Roland Orzabal, Arrangement by Pentatonix Shell Shocked Tango – Words and Lyrics by Duane Alexander. Based on the song Cell Block Tango by Kander & Ebb All By Myself  – Music and Lyrics by Eric Carmen And The World Will Know – Lyrics by Christopher Dudgeon. Based on the song And The World Will Knowby Alan Menkin & Jack Feldman Don’t Stand So Close – Music and Lyrics by Sting Sound of Silence – Music and Lyrics by Paul Simon Heavy  – Music and Lyrics by Anson Seabra Shadowland – Music and Lyrics by Lebo M. ‎Hans Zimmer‎ & Mark Mancina If The World Was Ending  – Music and Lyrics by JP Saxe You Will Be Found  – Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul A New World – Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown Another Day Of Sun – Music by Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul Imagine – Music and Lyrics by John Lennon Get Up Off That Thing featuring ‘The Chairman’s Waltz’ – Music by John Williams and ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ music and lyrics by James Brown Season of Love – Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson A Brand New Day – Music and Lyrics by Luther Vandross and Lyrics by Luther Vandross  

Awakening – Acknowledgments:

Pieter Toerien
Mila De Biaggi
Keith Furquharson and The Academy of Sound Engineering
Mark Malherbe and Prosound
Fred Abrahamse and Marcelle Meyer    

Image credits: Gustav Klotz. Supplied.