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Matthew Wild Reveals the Art of Directing Musicals

Find out what it takes to direct South African musicals from Matthew Wild, one of the most versatile and prolific South African theatre directors of his generation.

Equally at home staging operas, musicals, new plays and classic texts, Matthew Wild’s productions have been seen on stages throughout South Africa, as well as in Germany, Sweden, Ireland and Australia. In early 2015, he was appointed as the Artistic Director of Cape Town Opera. Most recently, he has won widespread acclaim for a series of musicals for the Fugard Theatre.

His multi-award winning production of The Rocky Horror Show opened in 2013, and closed 19 months later after 444 performances. His staging of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret opened at the same theatre in early 2015, followed by a major new revival of West Side Story at the Artscape Opera House, which now transfers to Johannesburg in January 2017.

Creative Feel: You have been very successful with your recent productions of musicals for the Fugard Theatre. What attracts you to directing musicals?

Matthew Wild: Most of my time is spent working on opera, which will always be my first love, but directing musicals provides a change of pace and focus that I really enjoy.

I love working with brilliant triple-threat musical theatre performers, who can merrily surmount any acting, singing and dancing challenges I throw at them – simultaneously!

This is more difficult in opera. Musicals are typically very labour-intensive to stage , with location and costume changes, lots of choreography (which takes a while to create), lots of technical hurdles to solve – so you have to do lots of planning and spreadsheets and careful scheduling, which I enjoy. It’s also good fun to let your hair down in a piece which will have wide audience appeal (such as The Rocky Horror Show), when you’re used to short opera runs and a slightly more staid audience.

West Side Story.

CF: How did you manage to create a phenomenal 100% South African production of West Side Story and still keep the ‘American’ vibe of this classic musical?

MW: When I got the gig, people asked me if I would set the production locally – in the Cape Flats or a gang-ridden township. It’s hard to imagine a literal location shift for West Side without rewriting the book and lyrics – it’s all written in dialect, and every second page references America and Puerto Rico – but I wanted to put New York in the background and bring out the universal aspects of the story.

So we eliminated all local colour from the settings, creating an abstract concrete jungle in an indeterminate late 20th century time period. Birrie le Roux looked at gang outfits from different countries and eras to create tough but timeless uniforms for the Jets and Sharks, which made a clear but unobtrusive visual links with gang warfare closer to home.

CF: After directing West Side Story in Joburg, what are your plans for 2017?

MW: I will direct Funny Girl for the Fugard, followed by new productions of Der fliegende Holländer and The Magic Flute for Cape Town Opera, and make my debut in Switzerland in the spring with a new production of Don Giovanni.

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