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Eric Abraham presents a Fugard Theatre production of the legendary South African musical King Kong!
King Kong is a landmark, 1959, South African jazz-influenced musical, billed at the time as an "all African jazz opera". Opening in Johannesburg on 2 February 1959 at Witwatersrand University Great Hall, the musical was an immediate success, with The Star newspaper calling it "the greatest thrill in 20 years of South African theatre-going". It "swept South Africa like a storm", touring the country for two years and playing to record-breaking multi-racial audiences, before being booked for a London production in 1961, by which time it had been seen by some 200,000 South Africans. The music and some of the lyrics were written by Todd Matshikiza. The lyrics were by Pat Willams and the book by Harry Bloom.
The musical portrays the life and times of a heavyweight boxer, Ezekiel Dlamini, known as "King Kong". Born in 1921, after a meteoric boxing rise, his life degenerated into drunkenness and gang violence. He knifed his girlfriend, asked for the death sentence during his trial and instead was sentenced to 14 years hard labour. He was found drowned in 1957 and it was believed his death was suicide. He was 36.
After being a hit in South Africa in 1959, the musical played at the Prince's Theatre in the West End of London in 1961. King Kong launched the international career of Miriam Makeba, who played the shebeen queen of the Back of the Moon, a shebeen of the time in Sophiatown. The male lead was Nathan Mdledle of the Manhattan Brothers.
Others in the cast were Hugh Masekela, Kippie Moeketsi and Thandi Klaasen, all of whom went on to have successful careers. The London cast featured Nathan Mdlele and Peggy Phango, with Joseph Mogotsi, Ben Masinga, Stephen Moloi, Sophie Mgcina, Patience Gowabe and former Miss South Africa 1955 Hazel Futa. Patience and Hazel later became The Velvettes, the backing vocal singers for Cyril Davies All Stars band and performed backing vocals on the Joe Meek produced single "She's Fallen In Love With The Monster Man" by Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages in 1964.