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David Kramer brings a new musical to CT stage

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SUZANNE BELLING

“I found a reference to Orpheus McAdoo 10 years ago and a description of his 1890 visit to South Africa. Orpheus is the main character and impresario who brought the first African-American singing troupe on tour to our shores when whites predominated the stage in this country.”

Hailing from Virginia in the US, Orpheus was a qualified teacher from the first generation of freed slaves. His Jubilee Singers took the country by storm.

Kramer, who wrote the script, music and lyrics and is directing the show, explained the music of this genre.

“They took Negro spiritual (sacred music) and gave the world famous songs such as Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Amazing Grace.

TV actor Aubrey Poo, who stars in several soapies, including Scandal, is cast in the role of Orpheus.

“It is a wonderful company of 14 actors and singers, mainly from Cape Town, with two from Johannesburg,” Kramer told SA Jewish Report.

The show runs at the Fugard Theatre, Cape Town from January 28 to February 21. Kramer says there are no plans at this stage to bring Orpheus to Johannesburg and the other main centres.

“It is a brand new musical and we will assess the box office success before there are further plans.”

Kramer was perhaps best known as the celebrity to endorse the long-running VW Microbus ad with his red velskoene, bicycle and guitar.

He has numerous box office hits to his credit, including his first musical District Six in collaboration with the late Taliep Petersen. The partnership ended in tragedy when Petersen was murdered. The two met in the mid-seventies at a folk concert at the University of Cape Town with Des and Dawn Lindberg.

Paying tribute to his friendship with Petersen, the Kramer Petersen Songbook was staged at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre, produced by the theatre and Kramer’s wife Renaye, whom he knew since childhood in Worcester. Renaye still plays an active role in her husband’s work. Her parents, centenarian Louis Lange, now deceased, and his wife Joyce, were the last Jews in Worcester. Today no Jews live in the town.

Kramer himself was born in Worcester. His family name was originally Karabelnik, which his grandfather changed when he came to South Africa from Lithuania in 1899.

In his youth, Kramer had lessons with classical composer Cromwell Everson. He joined a local band, The Creeps, in the 1960s and went to England in 1971 to study textile design at Leeds University.

Back in Cape Town, he worked in the textile industry and in the seventies began his musical career, singing in folk clubs and campus concerts.

Kramer’s works are mainly stories and songs in Afrikaans and English about ordinary life in South Africa. There is humour, satire, but often, beneath that, a dark realism.

He has one platinum and several gold albums to his credit and in 2007 was awarded an honorary doctorate in literature from UCT.

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