Song, dance and tons of laughter were the order of the day (or should I say night) as the spectacular Aunty Merle, The Musical made its Joburg debut.
The opening night of the much anticipated four-time Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards-nominated production proved to be a hit as theatre lovers filled the Joburg Theatre auditorium to the brim to welcome Marc Lottering and his production.
The audience cheered as soon as the band started to play and faces lit up as the world of Lottering’s long-cherished character, Aunty Merle Abrahams of Belgravia Road, Athlone, took centre stage.
Penned by the charismatic local funny man himself and directed by the multi-award-winning Lara Foot, Aunty Merle, The Musical took the audience on a journey of love as Aunty Merle’s daughter, Abigail, (played by Tracey-Lee Oliver) announced her engagement to her good-looking ‘’white chap”, Alan (played Paul du Toit).
The drama unfolds as Abigail’s corrupt ex Denver (Loukmaan Adams), who holds a dodgy top job with the SABC, threatens to reveal her dark secret that has the potential to tear the lovers apart.
Is Abigail and Alan’s love strong enough to withstand whatever fiery arrows Denver aims at them?
With any production of such high stature, it’s difficult to praise just one cast member. If I must, though, Oliver outdid herself not only with her performance as an actress, but her vocals too, and every so often she reminded the audience that they are watching a musical.
Another character who stole the show was Lydia (played by Tankiso Mamabolo).
Mamabolo’s cheekiness kept the audience on the edge of their chairs. She randomly sends Aunty Merle around to make her tea, which Merle doesn’t really seem to mind, but you could feel the tension in the auditorium rise as the race factor popped up.
Chatting to Lottering prior to the show, he explained the challenges he faced when trying to find a suitable performer to play Lydia.
“There was an issue of me employing a black actress in South Africa in 2019. What is that all about? That is why people must see the show.
“During the auditions, the black actresses requested to have meetings with me beforehand because it was very important for them to know how this role is treated. It’s so interesting because Lydia is played by this actress who is going to take the country, if not the world, by storm.
“Tankiso just came back from an international tour for a film. And for her to come for an audition to play a helper, that blew me away.
“I expected a lot of people to come but not Tankiso. You know how massive Tankiso is? She carries the role with such pizazz, it’s a joy to watch," said Lottering.
Another issue Lydia is dealing with on the show is her cheating husband and her angry daughter. She has unresolved issues with her mother and Merle’s daughter.
Then there’s Merle’s son, who spends a lot of time with his friend Siya. They’re always in a room listening to Beyoncé.
The audience is awed by the way Merle and her husband deal with the issue of their son being gay.
The two men kissing on stage got an interesting mix of reactions from the crowd. It’s surprising, especially in 2019, when even a fictional interracial couple kissing on 7de Laan leaves people hot under the collar.
Aunty Merle’s punchlines will keep audiences in stitches throughout the show. And she pulls no punches in addressing contentious issues, either.
Aunty Merle, The Musical is currently showing at the Joburg Theatre till March 1. Tickets from R145. Visit www.joburgtheatre.com for more information.