King Kong to return to Joburg stage


Los Angeles-based and Durban-born multi-award-winning actress, singer and dancer, Nondumiso Tembe, is thrilled about being part of the rich history of South Africa’s first black megam musical, King Kong.

The critically acclaimed production, which swept local and international audiences 60 years ago, is set to make its return to the Johannesburg stage with a limited run at the Joburg Theatre from September 12 to October 1.

The Joburg stint comes hot on the heels of a Cape Town run at The Fugard Theatre. Tembe plays the role of shebeen queen, Joyce and spoke to The New Age ahead of the Joburg run.

“King Kong is such a classic and brilliant production. I am just celebrating the fact that I am part of history as it not only a stage production, but it comes with a great legacy, particularly as we celebrate Women’s Month. I am deeply honoured to be part of the production, especially when I look at some of the women such as Miriam Makeba and Letta Mbulu, who all went on to become legends as a result,” the USbased actress and opera singer said.

The spectacular and colourful jazz inspired musical tells the story of ’50s heavyweight boxing champion, Ezekiel Dlamini, known as King Kong, features the exhilarating music of the time – by the late great South African composer Todd Matshikiza.

The talented actress said she does not take the role that paved a way for one of the county’s leading generation of musicians lightly as it means a lot not only to herself but to all South Africans.

“Being part of King Kong has its added pressure which I do not take lightly.

“I can’t disappoint when over 50 years ago, the musical brought so much to the people of South Africa. I can’t wait for Joburg to see what we have in store for them, as we are also hoping for an international tour. We have tried to make a musical that also re-creates history while also becoming a bridge between the ’50s and contemporary South Africa,” she said.

The 1959 production comes with a rich history and international recognition.

It became the first black musical set in Sophiatown in Johannesburg in the late ’50s, and went to tour South Africa, with reports that more than 200000 South Africans had a chance of seeing this popular production before it transferred to London’s West End for a 200-performance run.

Among those who made a name for themselves include luminaries such as Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbulu, Caiphus Semenya, Sophie Mgcina and many others.

Former Isibaya actor, Andile Gumbi plays the role of the inimitable King Kong while Nondumiso Tembe plays the role of Joyce, the shebeen queen of the Back of the Moon, a popular shebeen of the time in Sophiatown.

The same role was played by jazz legend, Miriam Makeba.

Tembe said those coming to Joburg Theatre can expect a beautiful stage production which will not only take audiences back in time but transcend decades with a vibrant yet poignant messaging.

“The story resonates well with what is happening with the current generation of young people. It has been a phenomenal 60 years for the original cast, but the aspirations of being a professional boxer play itself as a cautionary tale on how things can go wrong if we do not take responsibility.

“There are many young boys going through similar patterns in their lives,” she said.