Saturday, January 26, 2013


I grew up loving musicals. My first memory is of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke singing in the musical film Mary Poppins. This was followed by Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, and Julie Christie and Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music, a host of singing stars in Oliver, and the catchy songs from the Jungle Book. My coming of age memories were deeply shaped by the Rocky Horror Picture Show, John Travolta and Olivia-Newton John in Grease, and Neil Diamond in the Jazz Singer. With the arrival of my children I have happily sung my way through the songs from the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and a host of other Disney movies.

My love of musical movies was supplanted by a love of musical stage productions. Because of South Africa’s apartheid-isolation from international arts, we had to be content with hearing recordings of the musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice rather than seeing them.  I learned the words for Joseph, for Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Phantom of the Opera. In 1984 Jenny and I visited London, and were blown away by the live stage performance of Evita, followed a few nights later by Cats. We were hooked on live musicals – and as South Africa opened up to musicals we have enjoyed everything from Chicago to David Kramer’s District Six. But my all time favourite is Les Misérables.

Les Misérables , first published as a Victor Hugo historical novel in 1862, is a reflection on the tension in live between Grace and Law. My friend Alan Brews bought Jenny and me tickets to see it in Cape Town, and we were deeply moved by its message of hope in the love of God. I was privileged to see it again in New York with my friends Charmaine Morgan and Sidwell Mokgothu. Again I was moved to tears. Now it has come out as a musical film, and I intend seeing it. Will keep you posted.       

PS: I am intrigued to discover that the lyricist for the English-language musical adaptation is South African born Herbert Kretzmer. Born in Kroonstad in 1925 of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants William and Tilly Kretzmer, he left South Africa to become a journalist and theatre critic in London. He turned the original French words into the English version that – as of the end of 2012 - has become the longest running musical in the West End.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mary Poppins and Sound of Music are still two of my alltime favorites. (It was Julie Andrews in both, not Julie Christie, by the way. She was in Dr. Zhivago, another favorite, but not a musical!) Let us know what you thought of Les Miserables. One friend said she was disappointed in the music, so I'd like to know what you think (since we have similar taste, obviously!)