Theatre

Asian audiences are lapping up local theatre productions

Local performers and crews dazzle Asian audiences with top Broadway musicals

12 May 2019 - 00:00 By KATHARINE CHILD


South African musical and stage performers are big in Japan. And China, South Korea, Singapore and the Philippines.
Asian audiences are clamouring for local productions of Matilda and Chicago and international productions The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera, which have a mainly South African cast.
Part of the reason is that South African shows come with a more affordable price tag than their Western counterparts, and audiences still get to see cookie-cutter versions of Broadway or West End productions.
The spin-offs are not just jobs for hundreds of performers, but also a steady gig for crew members who travel to the East to make sure audiences stay enthralled.
"It is absolutely a success story," says stage producer Hazel Feldman.
At any one time there are a couple of hundred South Africans in the East, performing Broadway-style musicals. The shows run translation screens next to the stage.
China is the latest country to keep South African shows, actors and crew members in business. Theatres there request a complete cast - so even child actors get to go.
Heading to China for seven months is the South African production of the musical Matilda, which will be touring multiple cities. There are seven children in the production, including three young actors alternating in the role of Matilda.
The much-acclaimed Chicago, now playing to audiences in Johannesburg, returned earlier this year from a 16-week stint in China, where it played in 10 large cities to at least 100,000 people. It was so successful, the show is going back towards the end of the year, said Feldman.
"Five years ago we could only play Beijing and Shanghai," she said.
The Lion King production has enjoyed a roaring good time for a year, touring some of the largest cities in South Korea, andPhantom of the Opera - with South African performer Jonathan Roxmouth in the lead - is playing to audiences in Singapore and is going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from June 15 to July 7.
Chicago musical director Bryan Schimmel said the shows were sold out but there were bits that got lost in translation. "The language of the show is very American ... It's the weirdest thing performing an entire number and you get no applause," he said.
Matilda resident director Anton Luitingh said: "Basically, you see the same thing as on Broadway. The standards are the same. Nothing is different." That goes for costumes, dancing, lighting and sets. Luitingh said there is an immense amount of talent in SA.
In terms of affordability, Schimmel said, "an international promoter is doing his budgeting in dollars. In terms of calculating salaries, it becomes a hell of a lot less when paying a South African company because the rand currency is so weak."That doesn't mean South Africans get short-changed, however."It becomes a win-win situation. We score, earn higher wages and get to see the world," said Schimmel.He loves the theatres and architecture but finds internet connectivity in China tough going because of the government clampdown on internet access, Schimmel said."Unless you have a virtual private network [software paid for and downloaded outside of China that allows people to get access to the internet while pretending they are outside of China], you cannot connect to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or Google."Singer and actress Ilse Klink, one-time star of the soapie Isidingo and now returning to the role of corrupt prison matron Mama Morton, said being part of the cast of Chicago and travelling around China was spectacular."I ate my way through China," she joked, laughing off the 5kg she picked up.She depended a lot on Google Translate, she said. Her 26-year-old daughter Tyler joined Klink for a month overseas. She had the opportunity to take her to Disneyland in Shanghai, fulfilling a promise she made to her as child.

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