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Friday evening saw the opening of Passing Strange presented by Oakfields College Faculty of Dance + Musical Theatre at The Fringe at Joburg Theatre. Let me begin by admitting that I am no fan of musicals, I love music, and I love theatre but the two combined into musical theatre rarely works for me. I would love to say that this presentation changed my mind, but I can’t. As musicals go however, this was a great production, of a musical that was not chosen for being easy to produce in any way.
The musical tells the story of its creator Stew, an African American youth who in a rebellious phase experiments with religion, music and drugs in an attempt to find “the real”. This leads him to forming a band, disbanding this same band, saving up cash and heading from the US to Europe, leaving his heartbroken mother behind to continue his search for “the real”. He spends time in the cities of Amsterdam and Berlin, and experiences two extremes of European culture. Sex drugs and rock ‘n roll in each city continue his quest where he learns a great deal about himself and life. He returns home suddenly at the end of the production to face some of hardest lessons life has to teach.
This production was performed, choreographed and stage managed by the students of Oakfields College. If you were not aware of the fact that this was a student production, you would not have guessed from the quality of the production and performance. The cast were required to both speak and sing at various times in American, Dutch and German accents, an ask for even seasoned professionals. The band was a little loud in the first of the two acts, requiring more work from the cast, and although some audience members commented afterward that they struggled to make out the lyrics this was not a problem that I encountered. Singling out the superb performances of the narrators Angela Sparks, Siphe Mashigo and the lead role of ‘the youth’, Justin Swartz would be unfair to the rest of the cast who all contributed to the success of the show.
Overall, I’d rate the performance of the student cast and technical crew highly. I didn’t particularly enjoy the musical itself, the music and storyline did not draw me in. Someone who enjoys musicals would enjoy this production. The cast and crew have certainly done Oakfields College proud. I will be recommending the show to friends and family members who do enjoy a good musical.