Celebrating the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela, Madiba The Musical is a fast-paced show that bristles with energy, delivered by a high voltage cast that are absolutely indefatigable.
Conceived by a French creative team, stylistically the show’s musical language owes much to that of Les Misérables and Miss Saigon, with the incisive injection a hip-hop narrator reminiscent of Hamilton, and tribal dance segments that anchor it all with a strong South African vibe.
As we left the theatre, my wife said that she felt she had actually been in the presence of Nelson Mandela, such was the compelling and life-like portrayal of the great man by Perci Moeketsi. He got the mannerisms spot on and he nailed the voice, but most importantly he delivered the gravitas of Mandela. To sound like a person is one thing, but to sound like them singing, that is a whole new ballgame. Moeketsi commanded the stage, whether soliloquising from a dramatic central spotlight or sitting aloof in the shadows of his prison cell, in what was a truly memorable performance. In years to come, from all the shows I’ve seen, I’ll always remember the guy that played Nelson Mandela.
David Denis was similarly impressive as the narrator, bouncing in, out and around the stage, dropping his rhymes as political commentator and cheeky cupid, always propelling the story forward and adding spark. As agile with his voice as he was with his dance moves, Denis kept the whole thing moving and, in the tradition of the Greek chorus, provided that link between the audience and the stage.
The small supporting cast were big in terms of how they used the full stage, filling it with their spirit. Ruva Ngwenya was a strong Winnie Mandela, really stepping up for her solo slots. Blake Erickson, very convincing as the conflicted racist cop Peter van Leden, relished his dramatic highpoint with a Javert-type proclamation in My Civilisation. Tim Omaji (Sam) and Tarisai Vushe (Sandy) grounded the drama in some gritty realism, while Barry Conrad (Will) and Madeline Perrone (Helena) made the slightly clumsy love angle work.
Staging was basic, limited to a couple of trucks wheeled on and off, but in combination with striking backdrops (I loved the line drawings, especially the one showing van Leden growing older), dramatic lighting and convincing costumes, plus a tight three-piece band, it all added up to some real magic.
The show runs until February 17 – the opening night audience was on its feet at the end and all the comments around me were glowing. The show deserves full houses.