WORLD STAGE a month-long international theatre festival presented by Harbourfront Centre at various venues around town. (See theatre listings, page 71, for details.) Opens Tuesday (April 1) and runs to April 27. Mainstage prices $35-$125, ancillary events free-$14, package discounts. 416-973-4000, except The Mysteries and Carmen (416-872-5555) and The Overcoat (416-368-3110). www.harbourfront.on.ca/
YIIMIMANGALISO: THE MYSTERIES (UK/ South Africa) created by director Mark Dornford-May and music director Charles Hazlewood, with Pauline Malefane, Andries Mbali, Vumile Nomanyama and Herman Hardick. Presented by Broomhill Opera and Wilton's Music Hall at the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge). April 8, 9 and 11 at 8 pm, matinees April 12 and 13 at 2 pm. $55-$75.get ready for one big joy-fest. The most eclectic production in the World Stage lineup, Yiimimangaliso: The Mysteries is a surprising reinterpretation of medieval English Bible dramas by a cast of 35 South Africans.Drawn from the Chester cycle of plays -- the last recorded performance was 1575 -- that starts with creation and ends with Judgment Day, this production grew out of the South African Academy of Performing Arts, an organization set up by director Mark Dornford-May and musical director Charles Hazlewood when they saw the incredible theatrical and musical talent available in South Africa.
"In Capetown alone there are 2,000 church and school choirs," notes Dornford-May. "Since music plays a key role in the show, we auditioned people by asking them to sing simple songs, and then worked on theatre material in callbacks."
The show's music is largely vocal and a cappella, with accompaniment played on scrapyard objects. It contrasts remarkably with the other production the company brings to Toronto -- a version of Bizet's opera Carmen. Pauline Malefane, who plays the sexy Carmen, is also the Virgin Mary in The Mysteries.
The Mysteries features a multiracial cast speaking at least five languages -- English, Zulu, Afrikaans, Latin and Xhosa, with its percussive clicks -- that reflect their backgrounds and that of the material.
"The clarity of the performance transcends any language problems," says the director from Capetown. "We've also chosen the best-known pieces, the stories of Cain, Noah, Abraham and Isaac, and of course Christ's life."
When the show premiered at a Capetown festival in 2000, some white audience members were outraged at seeing blacks onstage. Thankfully, the reaction has been more welcoming when the show's toured and sold out in Great Britain, Australia and the States.
"We haven't approached the show politically, since we've cast the best performers rather than by colour. But because people are aware of South African history, that alone makes a political statement.
"The truth is that the company reflects completely the new South Africa -- black, coloured and white sharing the stage."