I want to pay tribute to one of the happiest experiences in my life. It took place in Cape Town, in July and August of this year.
A black township musical called 'King Kong' has just opened in Cape Town, a revival of an iconic show that was last performed in 1959. Back then it caused a sensation, and still lingers in the memories of South Africans. It was called 'King Kong' not after the great ape, but after a real boxer who had this as his nickname. The music - township jazz of the era - was written by Todd Matshikiza, and the show starred the then-young Miriam Makeba. It travelled to London, was acclaimed, then died. All these years later producer Eric Abraham has revived it. The original featured a number of glorious songs that are still well known in South Africa, and several spectacular dance numbers, but was weak on story telling and character. Eric called on me to work on the book and lyrics to embed the famous songs in a more coherent show.
In doing this I realised several of the characters needed songs of their own, so I ended up writing six new songs, as well as the revised and developed book. These songs have been set to music by the show's musical director, Charl Johann-Lingenfelder, who has brilliantly channeled the style of Todd Matshikiza. Eric then hired director Jonathan Munby and choreographer Greg Maqoma. We four, working in the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town, then built the new show.
As I worked with them, I found myself thinking, this is pure joy. Why? The answer, I realised, was that I was in the middle of a very rare experience: shared creativity. The show pre-existed all of us, so in a sense what we were creating belonged to none of us or all of us. It was an ego-free zone in a world of super-heated egos. No doubt if the show's the worldwide success it deserves to be there'll come the usual squabbles over credit, just as happened to the original show. But for now the experience itself is the reward. I sat on the sidelines watching as Jonathan, Charl and Greg brought the scenes to life, occasionally turning to me for new lines, or cuts - even once a whole new scene - and I was in heaven. This is partly down to the warmth of the performers, twenty or so actor-singer-dancers of great talent, who between them deliver the thrilling song and dance numbers. Partly it's the music itself, both Todd's original and Charl's new material. Partly it's Jonathan's calm but magisterial touch as he crafted the work. We were even tweaking the show as it ran before its first audiences, even as we gloried in the standing ovations.
I don't expect to have so much fun ever again in my professional life. Unless I can work with the same team again. One day. Before I die...