Founder and Director of Showtime Management, Hazel Feldman: one of the first women in the male-dominated entertainment industry and the biggest producer of local shows and international talent.
The list of shows that Hazel Feldman produced here in South Africa reads like the crème de la crème of musicals. Including Chicago, We Will Rock You, Rent, Dreamgirls and Jersey Boys. Her famous concert productions including Pavarotti, The Rolling Stones, The Three Tenors, Queen, Frank Sinatra, Elton John and Rod Stewart.
Talking about her company’s current and future productions and her on-going love and passion for entertainment becomes clearly evident – with plans already in place for the next few years. At the moment, she is much involved (and loves it) in what she terms ‘Family Entertainment’. The likes of Disney On Ice or Slava’s Snowshow, a wordless show that leaves you speechless. And then there are the preparations for Annie, the Broadway musical based on the popular comic strip, Little Orphan Annie. A real family musical that will be staged in Johannesburg and Cape Town later in the year.
Looking back, Feldman talks about becoming a young cadet journalist at the Rand Daily Mail in the late 1960s. This was an incredible era when she just wanted to change the world. It wasn’t an easy time for women in journalism. There were very few in hard-hitting journalistic role, essentially, where she wanted to be. Her writing as a journalist was restricted to ‘women’s interest’ or what it was considered to be at the time. Since it also involved writing reviews of shows and performances, her life changed when she received an offer that she could not refuse. That is, to run the press office at African Theatres.
She realised that this was an opportunity for her to start her own business and do freelance work. She had recently got married, was pregnant with her first son and thought she could work from home. There were numerous shows coming into the country at that stage and she knew the relevant media to work with.
In 1979, she received a call from Sol Kerzner saying that he was starting up Sun City. Kerzner took Feldman and her husband up in his helicopter to see this place in the bush. A roughly dug-up building site in a valley, in a volcanic crater. He pointed out where the golf course, the hotel, and the theatre would be. ‘My husband and I looked at this and thought this man was totally insane, completely mad! When we landed, he asked if I would like to take over the entertainment side of Sun City and my husband to organise the Million Dollar Golf Challenge. We worked with him for an incredible 14 years.
Feldman has been in the South African entertainment industry for so long that choosing her very best show is difficult. She feels that Chicago and We Will Rock You were terrific and also financially successful. There have been shows where her heart ruled over her purse that did not work out. For example, Dreamgirls was probably up there with the best shows that she ever did and loved. She put her heart and soul, and her house, into it. It was a fantastic production but, she could not sell the seats. The reviews were great but she had to cut the show short and lost a lot of her own money. She did, however, pay every performer, supplier and the whole crew. ‘Without the booking support, you can’t do it.
‘We often struggle to get the audiences in South Africa. There are union restrictions to taking our productions into many parts of the world – such as Australia, the States, and the UK. However, we can take our productions to Asia, which has become the largest emerging theatre market in the world, and they love western musicals. We took the South African production of We Will Rock You to Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea and had tremendous success over there. It opened up a market, which means we can extend the performance from ten to sixteen weeks, which makes it financially viable. This is something I have been really concentrating on.’
Feldman shares her dream to have brought out Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler. However, they are way too expensive and it has just not been possible. She also still dreams of an iconic South African musical based on the life of Johnny Clegg at the level of a Broadway show, but it is difficult to get funding – a massive challenge. But then, that is what Hazel Feldman thrives on – challenges.
All images were provided by Hazel Feldman and Showtime Management.