The beat goes on

The Star Tonight March 8, 2005
The beat goes on

By Adrienne Sichel

It’s official – gumboot stomps, Khoisan steps and hundreds of djembe drums are heading from Mzansi to Off Broadway.

After months of negotiations Drumstruck producer and conceiver Warren Lieberman has finally signed a contract with Dodgers Theatricals owner and CEO Michael David.

This homegrown interactive theatrical drumming experience, which was spotted by scouts during its Market Theatre engagement last year, opens in a 500-seater theatre at Dodgers Stages in New York City in May with a South African cast.

Lieberman has also sold Dodgers options to the world rights of this Drum Cafe baby with the exception of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, where Drumstruck is already touring.

This means that international casting is wide open in future, but Lieberman’s contract states that he will be involved in those decisions. “As long as we have Tswana and Bushmen dances, eight Swedish guys (in these roles) just wouldn’t work,” he says.
Among the major changes are the addition of American director David Warren, who arrives in Johannesburg next month, to work on Drumstruck – which he saw 10 times in Sydney. Kathy-Jo Ross will be credited as original director and co-creator.

A new South African or American musical director will be brought in, replacing traditional music expert Anthony Caplan, who could be used as a consultant.

Warren’s experience includes directing the Broadway revivals of Holiday, starring Laura Linney and Tony Goldwyn (which received an Outer Critics Circle nomination for best revival), and Barry Manilow’s recent world tour.

Another project was staging the premiere of Manilow and Bruce Sussman’s Harmony, which Warren will direct on Broadway.

Rehearsals for this tour start in Joburg on April 11. Lieberman confirms that the US director will restructure and reshape the musical “but not a huge amount”.

“He seems happy with what we’ve got. The cast will be a bit smaller because in New York we will be in a smaller venue than the Star City Casino in Sydney in December.”

Lieberman envisages, with the new director’s blessing, adding more traditional instruments such as the marimba and kudu horn to make this showcase for southern and west African rhythms and traditions “less drummy”.

Since its premiere at the Liberty Theatre on the Square in Sandton in 2002, Drumstruck has been performed in Vietnam and China, as well as six weeks in Sydney under the banner of Edgeley International.

A national Australian tour is on the cards from June/July with the same producers. Because of the Off Broadway season, another Drumstruck company has to be created. Lieberman is up for the challenge: “There will be a lot of work for South Africans but I’ll have to start an intensive training course. If things go well in New York there will be Drumstruck all over the world.”

To coincide with this drumming spectacular’s US farewell performances, The Drum Cafe will launch its long awaited book Traditional Music of South Africa at the Wits Theatre on April 17.

This compilation of our tribal music and dance, by Laura Levine, with additional research and transcription by Anthony Caplan, is being published by Jacana.