The musical Annie came out tops at the annual Naledi Theatre Awards by garnering four awards, including Best Production of a Musical.
Three other highly acclaimed productions, Scorched, Suddenly the Storm and the musical TAU won three awards each at a glittering event held at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City, on 5 June, writes Peter Feldman. South African theatre in all its facets was celebrated on the night with entertainment, heartfelt speeches and surprises in the field of musical theatre where an Afrikaans production, Altyd in My Drome, walked off with two awards, including Best Director for its creator, Neels Claassen. Two international musicals, Shrek The Musical and the classic Singin’ in the Rain, were also honoured with two awards each. I See You, a hard-hitting South African play about police corruption and brutality, which was produced by the Market Theatre in collaboration with the Royal Court Theatre in London, won favour with the judges with two awards, including Best Lead Performance in a Play: Male going to Desmond Dube. The Naledi Theatre Awards, which is in its 13th year, applauds theatre excellence and is the biggest event on the Gauteng theatre calendar. Porselein a bold, abrasive, in-your-face Afrikaans production that did not hold back on its punches and hammered home its message in no uncertain terms was acknowledged when Tiaan Slabbert was given an award for Best Supporting Actor. Pay Back the Curry, an acerbic look at South African society, written by the celebrated Mike van Graan and performed by comedian Daniel Richards, earned a Best Newcomer Award for the versatile Richards.
Veteran South African playwright Paul Slabolepszy received an award for Best New SA Script for Suddenly the Storm, and Ameera Patel (Best Supporting Actress) and Ilse Klink (Best Lead Performance in a Play: Female) won awards for their contribution to Scorched. Another Afrikaans play, AS, won recognition for the Best Cutting Edge Production, while musical daredevil Bryan Schimmel, who has received no fewer than nine nominations in his career, won the Best Musical Director award for his work on Annie. The judges also took note of the groundbreaking African musical, TAU, which won in the categories Best Ensemble and Best Original Choreography for Nhlanhla Mahlangu. Greg King was honoured for his work (with Shanti Naidoo) on Shrek the Musical in Best Costume Design and again for Best Set Design for Suddenly the Storm. For the first time, two nominees in the Best Lighting Design category shared an award. They were Hlomohang Mothetho (TAU) and Wesley France (Suddenly the Storm). Four special awards were also given on the night. The Lesedi Spirit of Courage Award to Erik Holm, who is confined to a wheelchair after breaking his neck in a diving accident; the Executive Director’s Award to POPART for their innovative and exciting work in Maboneng; the Lifetime Achievement Award to Haccius Mokokapasi, who has been a stage manager for over 50 years at various theatres; and the World Impact Award to legendary icon, Johnny Clegg, who is about to embark on his farewell world tour after 40 years in the industry.
An exciting line up of presenters and entertainers were assembled on the night, including nominee Lilla Fleischmann, the star of Annie, who performed ‘Tomorrow’, Earl Gregory from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat who sang ‘Close Every Door to Me’, and award winning Daniel Richards who delivered a sketch from comedy Pay Back the Curry. The Kings of Harmony performed a moving tribute to the departed, and the cast of Sarafina executed an emotive and rousing finale. Says Naledi Executive Director Dawn Lindberg, ‘We made a strong statement in support of LGBTQ rights with a special arrangement of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, led by Timothy Moloi and ten of our very best voices in harmony.’ As always, the Naledi’s featured a host of celebrity presenters from the theatre industry that included Carolyn Steyn, Michael de Pinna, Mbongeni Ngema, Vanessa Frost, Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, Marah Louw, Zak Hendricks, Jade Bowers, John Kani, Tumi Morake, Kate Normington, Denise Goldin and the CEO of M-Net, Yolisa Phahle. Lindberg says of this year’s awards: ‘The standard of excellence gets higher and higher each year, making the judges’ job of selecting winners almost tautological; all the nominees are winners in our eyes!’
‘The panel sees over 100 productions each year, with over 300 nominees on the list of excellence. Judging takes place over a weekend with everyone on the panel allowed space to debate and discuss each and every of the 27 categories. The final votes are by secret ballot and verified by Zeridium. The process of seeing, analysing and assessing all professional productions staged in Gauteng during each year is a full-time job which is not always acknowledged. Lack of sufficient financial support from government and commercial sponsors is a constant battle, but Naledi is proud to be internationally recognised as the benchmark of excellence in South African live theatre.’
Judges are: Renos Spanoudes, Welcome Msomi, Sello Maake ka Ncube, Maishe Maponya, Peter Feldman, Helen Heldenmuth, Fiona Gordon, Gregory Goss, Johan van der Merwe, Annelize Hicks, Jenni Newman, Matthew Counihan, Rudi Sadler, Tiffany Higgo, and Lance Maron. A special panel for Theatre for Young Audiences partners with ASSITEJ SA. It comprises: Gerard Bester Allison Green, Kgomotso Christopher, Omphile Molusi, Dorianne Alexander, Lakin Morgan-Baatjies and Renos Spanoudes.