Louis Burke

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Louis Burke (born circa 1936) Theatrical producer, actor, choreographer, lighting designer and director.

Biography

Born in Durban, he began his career there as an amateur. He was married to Joan Brickhill. He is Muriel Alexander’s great-nephew.

Training

He studied Drama at Natal University.

Career

Worked with and married the musical star Joan Brickhill and they went on to found the successful Brickhill-Burke Company. In the 1990s they parted ways and he left South Africa to campaign in New York.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

As an actor he made his first stage appearance in Johannesburg in the Johannesburg REPS production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge (1957).

He has appeared as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Valere in The Miser and as the Samurai in Rashomon.

Initially the couple co-produced, co-directed and performed in large-scale classical productions, inter alia Molière’s The Miser (for PACT, 1964), A Midsummer Night's Dream (to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth at the Alexander Theatre, 1964), Dark of the Moon (for PACT, 1965).

In 1965 he directed The Beggar's Opera in Cape Town and in 1966 devised The Minstrel Scandals for ACT.

Gradually they turned to and became known for their lavish musical shows such as Oklahoma! (1963-4), Hello Dolly!, Mame, Gypsy, Barnum, etc) and devised “extravaganzas” at popular resorts such as Sun City.

In 1975 they presented the African musical Meropa in South Africa, and later as a command performance at the London Palladium.

Together with Joan Brickhill, he directed The Owl and the Pussycat as the opening production for the Academy in November 1967. It starred Christopher Galloway and Barbara Kinghorn. Together with Brickhill he staged the JODS production of South Pacific at the Civic Theatre in 1969. There were designs by Keith Anderson and it starred Inia te Wiata, June Hern, Jean Dell and James White.

Together with Joan Brickhill he directed, devised, designed, choreographed and lit Brickhill-Burke’s All-New, non-Stop Minstrel Scandals which was staged at the Empire in October 1970. Charles Stodel signed Lucky Grills to join Joan, Aubrey Ellis, Jean Dell, Barbara Thomson and Fredie Uphof on stage. This proved to be the closing show for the Empire.

Sandro Pierotti produced the Brickhill-Burke extravaganza Follies Spectacular starring Joan Brickhill and Choreographed by Wendy de la Harpe at the Civic in 1972.

Brickhill-Burke worked on a show for His Majesty’s called Minstrel Follies starring Pat Gill in 1974. They took over the lease of His Majesty’s forming a company with themselves as directors together with Graham English. They reopened His Majesty’s with the black musical Meropa featuring the Phoenix Players on the 3 December 1974.

Brickhill-Burke opened The Tempest, starring Hugh Rouse and James Ryan on 8 March 1975.

Brickhill-Burke staged Gypsy starring Libby Morris, Kim Braden and Bonnie Langford at His Majesty’s in the evenings in 1975 while they staged Shakespeare setwork pieces in the afternoons like Henry IV, Part One, directed by John Sichel and starring Michael McGovern.

Together with PACT, Brickhill-Burke revived The Sound of Music at His Majesty's Theatre in June 1976. Direction and choreography were taken care of by Brickhill and Burke, the latter of which starred in this production together with Diane Todd, Jarmilla Tellinger, Terry Lester and Judy Page.

To celebrate His Majesty’s 30th birthday Brickhill-Burke staged Follies Fantastique, starring Joan Brickhill, Alvon Collison and Beni Mason on 30 November 1976. Brickhill-Burke were responsible for the sets and costumes and the show ran until April 1977.

Brickhill and Burke ran a matinee season of Winnie the Pooh at His Majesty’s during December 1977.

Together with Brickhill he staged the Broadway hit I Love my Wife by Michael Stewart starring Tobie Cronje, Michael McGovern, Erica Rogers and Jessica Jones at His Majesty’s in 1978.

Brickhill-Burke staged Alan Aykbourn’s trilogy, The Norman Conquests, separately titled Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden, at His Majesty’s in 1979 starring Bill Flynn, Jana Cilliers, Sandra Duncan, Dorothy Ann Gould, Eckard Rabe and John Lesley under direction of Brian Rawlinson.

Brickhill-Burke’s production of Neil Simon’s They're Playing Our Song with score by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager was staged at His Majesty’s in 1980. It starred Marloe Scott-Wilson and Mike Huff.

Brickhill-Burke then staged Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers starring Hal Orlandini, Melody O’Brian, Lynne Maree and Brenda Wood at His Majesty’s.

Brickhill-Burke staged Jerry Herman’s musical Hello Dolly! adapted from Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker. It was directed by Louis, starred Joan Brickhill, Victor Melleney, Mike Huff, Iain Henderson, Andrea Catzel, June Hern and Charles Stodel and was staged at His Majesty’s Theatre in 1980.

Bedazzled, staged by Louis and Joan Brickhill starred Tanya the elephant and was staged in the theatre at Sun City in 1981.

Brickhill-Burke brought Michael Stewart’s I Love my Wife starring Tobie Cronjé and Eddie Eckstein to the Civic in 1982. It returned after a run in Sydney with Bartholomew John, Erica Rogers and Sharon Lynne having joined the cast. .

Brickhill-Burke staged Jerome Lawrence’s Mame, an adaptation of Auntie Mame, as a joint production with the Civic on 27 November 1982. It starred Joan Brickhill, Jean Dell, Janice Honeyman and Mark Richardson.

Together with the Johannesburg Civic Theatre Association, Brickhill-Burke Productions co-produced a new version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum starring Terry Lester and Wilson Dunster in June 1983.

He directed Barnum for PACT with Mark Wynter and Paul Ditchfield alternating the lead role at the Civic in 1983.

PACT presented his production of The King and I starring Joe Stewardson and Judy Page at the Civic in December 1984. Revived 1986.

He directed Shirley Firth’s production of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs at the André Huguenet Theatre in 1986.

Awards, etc

In 1963 he was nominated Best Actor and Best male director of the year in Durban.

Louis Burke, Best Director Award for Barnum, The King and I, Oklahoma!, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Jewish Mock Wedding, Mame.

Sources

SACD 1977/78.

Tucker, 1997.

(See: De Beer, 1995; Joyce 1999).

Go to South African Theatre/Bibliography

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