/ 7 September 2023

Musical reimagining of Can Themba classic The Suit Concert-ized

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Vusi Kunene, Khutjo Green and Brian Temba head up a powerhouse cast in this feminist take on the writer’s seminal Sophiatown-era short story

To celebrate 60 years since the publication of Can Themba’s acclaimed short story The Suit, a star-studded musical version — The Suit Concert-ized — will be presented at the Joburg Theatre’s Mandela Theatre from 15 to 24 September 2023.

Multi-award-winning actors Vusi Kunene (Isibaya, Generations) and Khutjo Green (The River, House of Zwide) head up a stellar cast, with acclaimed theatre practitioner Warona Seane directing this classic South African story of romantic betrayal as a celebration of our literary heritage this Heritage Month. 

Themba’s short story The Suit (1963) has held a prominent place in South Africa’s literary history. First published in the inaugural issue of The Classic, a literary journal founded by Nat Nakasa and Nadine Gordimer, it was immediately banned by the apartheid regime. A poignant tale of betrayal and punishment, the story is set in 1950s Sophiatown. Writer and publisher Dr Mothobi Mutloatse and playwright Barney Simon adapted the story into a play in 1994, premiering at the Market Theatre.

Reimagining the Sophiatown-era Themba story of a jilted husband’s revenge on his cheating wife through a female-centric lens, this musical adaptation now stars Brian Temba as the “other man”. It features new, original compositions and musical direction by composer Tshepo Tsotetsi, the founder of the New Skool Orchestra, alongside musician Viwe Mkizwana.

Executive-produced, conceptualised and adapted by Mutloatse with The BUZ Factor’s Bridget van Oerle as associate producer, The Suit Concert-ized promises to take Gauteng audiences by storm. 

Adding to the strong female-centric team, Khaya Ndlovu heads up the choreography for the musical, costume design is by Nadia Richards and the vibrant New Skool Orchestra is predominantly made up of young female musicians. Thabo Pule takes the helm of the production’s audio-visual design, with Mandla Mtshali in charge of lighting design. 

Seane says: “By reimagining this iconic story through a feminist lens, the aim is to amplify the voice of women in the story. We hope this will help curb the silencing of the female voice in society, which often leads to increased abuse against them, whether by their intimate partners, as was the case in this particular story, or in other spheres of women’s lives.”

The focus of the story in the musical adaptation is on Matilda, a violinist and leader of a symphonic orchestra in Johannesburg in the 1950s, which breaks from previous approaches that portrayed Matilda as a victim, she says. 

By placing a different spin on the story, the creative team has reimagined a classic South African story to confront the issue of gender-based violence head on, creating a multi-genre experience and placing music at the centre of the narrative, with original compositions performed live by a youth orchestra.

In addition to Kunene, who bagged an FNB Vita Best Actor Award for his role in the play of the same name 21 years ago as cuckolded husband Philemon, Green as Matilda/Mbalenhle and Temba as the love interest Thozamile/Orpheus, the musical will also introduce two gifted classical musicians to audiences — violinist Lebogang Ledwaba as the young Matilda and violist Kgaugelo Mpiyane as the young Thozamile. Supporting actors include veterans Job Kubatsi (also a previous FNB Vita Award winner for The Suit) and Alistair Dube.

Mutloatse says: “It has taken all of four years, two of which were disabled by the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, to get this thoroughly therapeutic musico-dramatico, The Suit Concer-tized, back to where it belongs — on a live stage — featuring an ensemble of actors and musicians of the highest calibre.” 

He says it is exciting to have such an illustrious cast sharing the stage for the first time in their careers, backed by a strong creative and technical team with so many dynamic women at its core.

This production is set to be an ensemble mix of drama, classical, gospel, choral and jazz inflections and themes, largely influenced by the rich diversity of what could be referred to as the Sophiatown Renaissance, infused with modern-day original, authentic South African sounds.

Make a date to see The Suit Concer-tized at the Joburg Theatre’s Mandela Theatre from 15 to 24 September 2023, and experience the dynamic youthful sounds of the New Skool Orchestra providing the soundtrack to a host of industry leading lights. Early-bird tickets are available at a 30% discount until 31 August 2023 through Webtickets.

The Suit Concert-ized is presented by the Sowetan in association with Dr Mothobi Mutloatse, with the generous support of the National Arts Council, Gauteng Film Commission and Department of Sport, Arts and Culture.

The show is at the Mandela Theatre in the Joburg Theatre from Friday 15 September 2023 to Sunday 24 September 2023

Book at Webtickets