King Kong: An All-African Jazz Opera

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King Kong: An All-African Jazz Opera (1959) [1] is a South African musical, with music by Todd Matshikiza, book by Harry Bloom and lyrics by Matshikiza and Pat Willams.

Also written as King Kong - An All-African Jazz Opera or King Kong – An African Jazz Opera.

The play is usually referred to simply as King Kong.

The original text

A musical about the rise and fall of heavyweight boxer Ezekiel Dhlamini, nicknamed "King Kong". musical by Harry Bloom (book), Pat Williams (lyrics) and Todd Matshikiza (Nguni lyrics and music). Originally written in 1957, and finally performed in 1959.

The production was to become one of the key theatrical events in the development of South African theatre, and has had its share of controversy. On the one hand it was seen as, and almost certainly was, an exploitation of black talent by white entrepreneurs, and a presented a white-washed European version of black community life. On the other hand it gave many performers access to professional theatre, launched the careers and made stars of many performers, some of them in the international arena (e.g. Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela), and it contributed powerfully to the development of the so-called “township musical” tradition utilized by Gibson Kente, Sam Manghwane and others, and even the eventual style and form of so-called “black theatre” and “protest theatre”.

King Kong was unsuccessfully revived in the 1980s, while an attempt to revive it again in 2001 at the Spier Festival in Stellenbosch floundered on copyright and other issues.

The text was published by Collins in 1961 as King Kong – An African Jazz Opera. Mona Glasser wrote a book about the making of the play called King Kong. A Venture in the Theatre (Cape Town: Norman Howell, 1960).

Performance history in South Africa

1959: First performed, under the title King Kong: A Jazz Opera, by the Union of South African Artists and the African Medical Scholarship Trust Fund in the Wits Great Hall, the Durban City Hall, the Feather Market Hall in Port Elizabeth where the stage had to be specially adapted to accommodate the musical and where over 10 000 tickets were sold, and the Camps Bay Civic Theatre in Cape Town. Directed by Leon Gluckman, with Nathan Mdledle (King Kong), Miriam Makeba (Joyce), Joseph Mogotsi (Lucky), Stephen Moloi (Jack), Helen Gama (Miriam), Dan Poho (Popcorn), Ruth Nkonyeni (Petal), James Thompson (Slim), Rufus Khoza (Harry), Ronnie Majola (Joe), Boy Ngweya (Gangster 1), Jerry Tsagane (Gangster 2), Bennett Masango (Sgt. Dhlamini), Gwigwi Mrwebi (Kuswayo), Phyllis Mqomo (Pauline), Desiree Mkele (Lena), Esme Raborethi (Trufina), Victor Ndlazelwane (Journalist), Abigail Kubeka (Joyce's Girl 1), Hazel Futa (Joyce's Girl 2), Suzan Gabashane (Joyce's Girl 3), Fats Peterson (Ma Ngidi), Lefty Maruping (Caswell) and Ken Gampu (Preacher/Jordan). Decor and costumes by Arthur Goldreich, musical direction by Stanley Glasser and choreography by Arnold Dover. The orchestra of 14 musicians included Hugh Masekela on trumpet. The facilitators of the production were Clive and Irene Menell and the publicist was Mona Glasser. The Anglo-American Corporation was a major sponsor of the production.

1960: The same production was staged by Union Artists, with some changes to the casting: Peggy Phango (Joyce), Patience Gcwabe (Miriam), Ben Masinga (Popcorn), Sophie Mgcina (Petal), Aaron Modise (Slim), Jerry Tsagane (Gangster 1), Ernest Mohlomi (Gangster 2), Tandi Kumalo (Lena), Louisa Emmanuel (Trufina), Mabel Mafuya (Mabel), Alton Kumalo (Journalist), Victor Ndlazelwane (Photographer), Vena Bendile (Joyce's Girl 3), Martha Mdenge (Ma Ngidi), Wanda Makhubu (Caswell) and Tommy Wilson Buson (Preacher/Jordan). This production toured the country, and later also went to London.

198*: Produced by ***, but was not successful as a production

2001: An attempt to revive it again at the Spier Festival in Stellenbosch floundered on copyright and other issues.

2017: Restaged at the Fugard Theatre from 25 July, directed by Jonathan Mundy from the UK, with Cape Town's Mdu Kweyama as the associate director. William Nicholson has revised the book. The musical directors are Johannesburg-based Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba and Cape Town's Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, who have arranged Matshikiza's original music for a contemporary audience. Andile Gumbi performs the role of King Kong. The play also stars Nondumiso Tembe. This production opens in Johannesburg on 12 September.


Wikipedia: King Kong (musical) [2]

Wikipedia: King Kong [3]

Evening Post, May 30, 1959.

Union of South African Artists theatre programme, 1959.

Union Artists theatre programme, 1960.

Tucker, 1997. pp 128-134, 162.

Cape Times Top of the Times supplement, 30 June 2017.

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