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Jews are well-represented at Naledi Awards

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PETER FELDMAN

A number of Jewish arts practitioners have been nominated for the prestigious Naledi Theatre Awards this year, and their fate will be known at a glittering ceremony at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City, on April 19.

These awards, now in their 12th year, reflect the vibrant and diverse nature of the South African theatrical landscape today. These are premier awards for theatre excellence in South Africa.

A musical about the late Jewish composer Marvin Hamlisch, “I’m Playing Your Song – The Marvin Hamlisch Story” received several nominations.

Alan Swerdlow was nominated for Best Director and Best Production of a Musical, while Sharon Spiegler-Wagner (Best Performance in a Musical Female) and Adam Pelkowitz (Best AV/Animation) also received nods from the judges; Bryan Schimmel was nominated (together with Jonathan Roxmouth) in the Best Score/Arrangement/ Adaptation category.

Swerdlow also received another nomination for “PYTHONesque” in the Best Ensemble category.

Daphne Kuhn, producer and owner of the Auto & General Theatre on the Square, Sandton, received no fewer than 22 nominations for productions staged at her theatre during 2015.

“I am particularly thrilled to receive 22 nominations in different categories for plays produced at Theatre on the Square”, she said. “It is certainly an encouragement for me to strive for artistic excellence and I do not like to look at it competitively. We are often disappointed when certain performances or productions escape the notice of the judges – while others unexpectedly capture their imagination. That is the nature of the game!”

She added that it was important that artists are acknowledged for quality work, as it is an industry where there is no financial reward. “I am presently the only Jewish woman producer and theatre owner in South Africa, that I am aware of, that has produced independently for over two decades.”

Margot Fleisch was nominated in the Best Costume category for “Miss Diedrich Regrets” and Nadya Cohen got a nod for her set design for “A Voice I Cannot Silence”.

On hearing of his nominations, actor/singer Adam Pelkowitz said he was “gobsmacked”. As he was in Cape Town performing in “Sweeney Todd”, his parents went to the nominations. “I am so glad and proud that they got to hear my name being called.”

His experience as a professional film editor helped him to create the projections for the Marvin Hamlisch musical. “I’d never done anything like this before.” Pelkowitz also received an acting nomination for his role as Beadle Bamford, the sly, oily, pompous sidekick of corrupt Judge Turpin in “Sweeney Todd” which he described as his favourite musical ever.

Sharon Spiegel-Wagner said she had waited her entire career to be noticed and “when it finally happened you are not sure how to respond. All I can say is that I’m truly grateful and I take none of my work for granted. “

Talking about her role, she said: “This project was the most challenging in my career to date. Each show has its uniqueness and its obstacles but this is the first time I’ve done a two-hander with none other than the incomparable Jonathan Roxmouth.

“As there was only one actress but several female characters in the script, I was left with the task of playing them all. At first I didn’t believe it was possible. How could I change costumes, wigs, my accent and age in no more than a few seconds? Not to mention play iconic characters such as Carly Simon, Cher and Barbra Streisand!

“I simply did what any other actress would do – I researched all the women, listened to all the music I could and worked hard to achieve the essence of each girl. I didn’t want to impersonate – that would be impersonal. I wanted to represent these women the way I understood them and expose their humaneness.”

Musician and composer Bryan Schimmel says: “It’s always wonderful to receive acknowledgement for one’s work, this being my 30th official year in the industry.”

Talking about his collaboration with Jonathan Roxmouth, he said: “It was a double gift working with a master of all trades like Roxmouth and the genius material of Marvin Hamlisch.”

He added: ” When I work with him he is able to converse with me in musician discourse which very few theatre performers are able to do. The result is one of true creative collaboration.”

* The Naledi Theatre Awards event is open to the public; booking is at Computicket. Tickets are R350 (R200 for pensioners and students) and 

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