Words fail Ma-Brrr in musical

12 September 2010 - 02:00 By ZINGI MKEFA

The good news about Ma-Brrr - The Musical is that Lesego Motsepe - formerly Lettie in SABC3's Isidingo - is so chillingly convincing as the late Brenda Fassie, you'd swear the pop diva had awoken from the dead and brought the house down at the State Theatre's Opera House.

The bad news is that the production still needs a lot of (fundamental) work.

It is basically a string of Fassie's greatest hits - including Weekend Special, Too Late for Mama and Black President - performed at near-CD quality. We may have musical director Victor Masondo to thank for that.

However, it starts to fall apart when director Jerry Mofokeng attempts to link the songs with snippets of threadbare dialogue that are clearly overwhelmed by the burden of telling the story of how a township girl rose to stardom to become both the most recognisable pop star on the African continent, and probably the most self-destructive "bad girl" in SA's entertainment industry.

Essentially, all the production's problems boil down to one fundamental question: is Ma-Brrr trying to be a musical or a tribute concert? It can't be both.

Ma-Brrr is almost a musical. It has a list of excellent songs. It boasts choreography by Themba Nkabinde, albeit not as impressive on stage as it might be in an actual music video. And there's the flimsy script that gives a sketchy portrait of the misunderstood Fassie, who was supposedly plagued by demons, always surrounded by a parasitic entourage that enabled her drug abuse.

Ultimately, it seems that the songs are much more important than the drama happening between them, which are more to introduce the next song.

In this sense, Ma-Brrr is also attempting to be a tribute concert. Tribute shows are easy, and if Ma-Brrr wants to be one, I'd suggest it cuts out the dialogue altogether and just invites the audience to a fun night of singing and dancing to Fassie's greatest hits.

The work of turning the life of this particular pop star into a real musical rests almost exclusively on the script. No one has to compose music; Fassie has already seen to that. The creators need to do something Fassie herself could not do: research Fassie's story thoroughly and, from a decidedly critical distance, weave a strong, opinionated narrative that sheds light on her life .

Ma-Brrr is very far from being the great musical it's poised to be. Fassie led an unbelievably fascinating, painful life. The compelling drama is her biography. Focus on telling the story well, and the songs will sing themselves.