Woodridge College stages District Six: The Musical

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Bob Eveleigh writes:

Avuxeni Tyala, Louise Fenix and Sibusiso Solilo, playing Hester, Mary and Henry respectively in the Woodridge College production of District Six: The Musical. Photograph: Liz Erasmus.
Avuxeni Tyala, Louise Fenix and Sibusiso Solilo, playing Hester, Mary and Henry respectively in the Woodridge College production of District Six: The Musical. Photograph: Liz Erasmus.

From August 3 to 5, Woodridge College will be staging David Kramer and Taliep Petersen’s award-winning ‘District Six: The Musical’.

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Performances at the Savoy Theatre in Port Elizabeth will be at 7pm on all three evenings plus a matinee at 2pm on the Saturday of the season.

‘District Six’ first exploded onto South African stages in the late 1980s and the success of these performances was repeated with the Baxter Theatre revival in 2002/3.

2017 is a particularly apt year to revive the production, as it marks the 10th year commemoration of Taliep Petersen’s untimely passing. The musical’s portrayal of the devastation that ensues when dignity and human rights are selfishly disregarded still serves as a cautionary tale to present day South Africa.

The Woodridge production of this iconic show will be directed by Caren Bestbier, with Virgil Matrass as musical director and Chireen Ferreira as choreographer.

Caren, currently Head of Dramatic Arts at Woodridge College, has over 20 years of experience in theatre and drama.

She is an award-winning stage manager, lighting and set designer, who started her career as an assistant stage manager at the PE Opera House. After studying towards a BA Dramatic Arts at Wits, she also successfully moved onstage, performing in numerous student productions, including a play that was performed in the Czech Republic.

She won the PEMADS Best Actress Award in 2016 for her performance in The Ex Factor and the Clover Showtime Best Supporting Actress in a Play Award in 2017 for Fiona Coyne’s Careful.

Caren is embracing the challenge of wearing the director’s hat for a senior school for the first time and says: “It has been an honour to work with the incredibly talented and dedicated young people on this production. When I chose this musical almost a year ago, I had no idea how relevant and meaningful it would end up being for my cast, and indeed our whole Woodridge community. Drama has the potential to heal and teach, and I believe that the decision to continue with the show after the recent heavy fire damage to our school will only strengthen the famous Woodridge Spirit!”

Virgil is the choral director and voice and piano teacher at Woodridge, where his pupils excel in both classically oriented and contemporary external examinations. He lectures in jazz piano at NMU and is well-known to Port Elizabeth audiences as a member of the acclaimed close-harmony vocal group ‘The Creed’, which is about to release their first CD. This versatile musician has, furthermore, performed internationally as a soloist.

Chireen has been in the industry for 37 years, as a singer, dancer, actress, choreographer, producer and director. A few of her professional performing outings include Eva Peron, for G&S, in Evita in 2014, for which she won the Clover Showtime Best Professional Actress Award, Ariel (in Footloose, also for G&S) and Rumpleteaser (in Pieter Toerien’s international touring company of Cats, for three years).

She has also been the choreographer for many Port Elizabeth adult and schools productions, regularly winning further Clover Showtime Awards for her work in shows like Grease, Beauty and the Beast, Shrek: The Musical and, earlier this year, Blood Brothers and The Addams Famliy, for which she will doubtless be in contention for the choreography award again.

Chireen reflects on the ‘Woodridge’ production: “While this is the first time I’ve worked with Woodridge College, I’m happy that it is with District Six, which is such a brilliant piece of South African musical theatre. I am blown away by the performances of these young pupls, who are mostly new to the drama world, and I cannot wait for PE to go on this tragic, emotional, hysterically funny journey with us. With their beautiful voices and lively dancing, these young performers are sure to lift everyone’s spirits. Since the school has just recently gone through a similar tragedy of losing something so special as the many buildings destroyed by the massive fires, this production means so much more to these kids than just another school play.”

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