Theatre Review: A Musical – Teenage Triumph, Or Of Rookies And Revelry

March 17, 2023

 

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

A Musical / Directed by Owen Lonzar / King David Linksfield, Linksfield, Johannesburg

 

In the only example of misdirection in a hugely impressive amateur school production, a title that couldn’t be more generic suggests a hodge-podge of material collected to create a show that will be as inclusive (though not necessarily as entertaining) as possible, in the best traditions of giving out awards for participation rather than excellence.

Happily, any notion of this being the case is quickly undone. A Musical does bring together songs from a score of stage shows of varying vintage and renown, but it does so with sly humour and clever (never cloying) examinations of contemporary issues in a clever script by Sharon Spiegel-Wagner, who is also responsible for the choice of compositions and the witty, often cheeky, rewording of their lyrics to suit this context.

King David Linksfield is 75 years old this year, so using the mechanism of a journey through some of the events that have taken place in that time via the cast’s reading of some old yearbooks discovered during a detention session makes a lot of sense. This group of degenerates stuck together in a classroom against their will knowingly recalls The Breakfast Club and features a similar range of personalities, with each student having their own issues to work with and each getting a chance in the spotlight to process those problems.

In every scenario, an ensemble of fellow students provides eye-catching support, particularly in the more exuberant songs, where their massed singing or dancing shows off the results of some focused drilling, courtesy of the (no doubt) firm hand of director and choreographer Owen Lonzar. As someone who marshals professionals in similar situations for a living, Lonzar expects a lot of his charges, and it’s likely that every performer on stage has only a vague recollection of what their comfort zone used to feel like. But the results of their being pushed to the limits of their capacity are extraordinary. There is the occasional bum note, the sometimes over-formal dialogue delivery and the more common lack of timbre that is entirely acceptable when working with first- or part-time performers, but that fades into insignificance when watching this group of school children – from a traditional school, not a drama school – never lose their place, forget their words or bump into each other, even when, as in the rousing finale, it looks like there are well in excess of 50 youngsters on an average-sized stage.

Collective highlights include the hilarious title track (from the show Something Rotten), fronted by alumnus Adam Pelkowitz, who gives a rousing reminder of what a natural he is when let loose in a role like this (think Mel Brooks with pipes); Revolting Children (from Matilda The Musical), which requires clipped enunciation and sure-footed steps to avoid becoming a horrible mess, of which it is the opposite; a moving mash-up of Waving Through A Window and You Will Be Found (both from Dear Evan Hansen), which help address the pervasive mental health challenges faced by today’s learners; and a joyful stomp through You Can’t Stop The Beat from Hairspray. Individually, there are a number of highlights, with the singing voices of Tali Rome (singing Aquarius from Hair) and Demi Cohen (singing Hopelessly Devoted To You from Grease) being superb and the all-round ability of Ben Ginsburg as a lanky, earnest nerd and Arianne Kirkel in a couple of completely committed comic cameos marking them as individuals to watch.

As just an exercise in educating learners in what they are capable of, A Musical would have been a success. But it does much more than that, acknowledging the challenges faced by teenagers, their occasional inability to face those trials, and the possibility of making it through with a bit of teamwork and dedication, all while sparking laughter, getting feet tapping and celebrating the humour and talent of all involved, from the kids to the composers and writers behind the original musicals.

 

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