Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth

At the end of Welcome Msomi's "Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth," the cast of 66 South African dancers, actors and musicians break into a spirited, percussion-driven dance with a vitality matched infrequently during the preceding two hours. This "Macbeth," it seems, is at its best when the Shakespeare is over and done with.

With:
Cast: Thabani Patrick Tshanini (Mabatha), Dieketseng Mnisi (Ka Madonsela), Lawrence Masondo (Dangane), Buyani Shangase (Donebane), Martin Jwara (Makhiwane) , Qond'okwakhe Mngwengwe (Mafudu), Qed'umunyu Zungu (Bhangane), Shaun Dugen (Folose), Philile Sibiya (Ka Makhawulana), S'Bongile Ngqulunga, Promise S'thembile Jali, Mary-Anne Busi Mchunu (Insangomas).

At the end of Welcome Msomi’s “Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth,” the cast of 66 South African dancers, actors and musicians break into a spirited, percussion-driven dance with a vitality matched infrequently during the preceding two hours. This “Macbeth,” it seems, is at its best when the Shakespeare is over and done with.

Msomi first presented his Zulu adaptation of the Scottish play 26 years ago, and here launches an expanded version for Lincoln Center’s Festival 97 and a subsequent mini-tour. But revised Shakespeare isn’t the novelty it was in 1971, and the static manner in which the plot is presented — characters standing center stage and reciting their lines (translated from the Zulu via surtitles) — does little to sustain interest. Only the periodic outbursts of dance and drumming carry the excitement promised by the premise.

Msomi melds the plot of “Macbeth” with the history of Africa’s great warrior king of the 19th century, Shaka Zulu. Shakespeare’s bloodthirsty Scottish clans become African tribes, the bard’s witches become witch doctors. The parallels are striking and unstrained, yet the streamlined plot presentation strips the tale of psychological nuance and subtlety.

The large cast, headed by Thabani Patrick Tshanini as Mabatha (Macbeth) and Dieketseng Mnisi as Ka Madonsela (Lady Macbeth), does well in differentiating characters despite the language barrier, and the Zulu regalia (the production’s costuming is uncredited) provides color and flash to the bare stage.

But it’s the choreography (by Thuli Dumakude, Mduduzi Zwane and Mafika Mgwazi) that brings “Umabatha” to life. The extended tribal dance that ends the production is the payoff to a show that otherwise seems to have outlived itself.

Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth

Production: NEW YORK A Lincoln Center Festival 97 presentation of the Johannesburg Civic Theater production of a play adapted from Shakespeare and directed by Welcome Msomi.

Crew: Music, Msomi; choreography, Thuli Dumakude, Mduduzi Zwane, Mafika Mgwazi; vocal arrangements, Dumakude; lighting, Mannie Manim, France Mavana, Denis Hutchinson; sound, Emmanuel McGarth; stage manager, Mncedi Dayi. Opened, reviewed July 21, 1997, at Lincoln Center's New York State Theater; 2,800 seats; $ 60 top. Running time: 2 HOURS.

With: Cast: Thabani Patrick Tshanini (Mabatha), Dieketseng Mnisi (Ka Madonsela), Lawrence Masondo (Dangane), Buyani Shangase (Donebane), Martin Jwara (Makhiwane) , Qond'okwakhe Mngwengwe (Mafudu), Qed'umunyu Zungu (Bhangane), Shaun Dugen (Folose), Philile Sibiya (Ka Makhawulana), S'Bongile Ngqulunga, Promise S'thembile Jali, Mary-Anne Busi Mchunu (Insangomas).

More Film

  • Stan Dragoti 'The Last Boyscout' PremiereDecember

    Stan Dragoti, Director of 'Mr. Mom,' 'Love at First Bite,' Dies at 85

    At the end of Welcome Msomi’s “Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth,” the cast of 66 South African dancers, actors and musicians break into a spirited, percussion-driven dance with a vitality matched infrequently during the preceding two hours. This “Macbeth,” it seems, is at its best when the Shakespeare is over and done with. Msomi first presented […]

  • Jagged Edge

    Film News Roundup: Halle Berry's 'Jagged Edge' Remake Finds Writer

    At the end of Welcome Msomi’s “Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth,” the cast of 66 South African dancers, actors and musicians break into a spirited, percussion-driven dance with a vitality matched infrequently during the preceding two hours. This “Macbeth,” it seems, is at its best when the Shakespeare is over and done with. Msomi first presented […]

  • Kate Winslet Diane Keaton Mia Wasikowska

    Kate Winslet, Diane Keaton, Mia Wasikowska to Star in 'Silent Heart' Remake

    At the end of Welcome Msomi’s “Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth,” the cast of 66 South African dancers, actors and musicians break into a spirited, percussion-driven dance with a vitality matched infrequently during the preceding two hours. This “Macbeth,” it seems, is at its best when the Shakespeare is over and done with. Msomi first presented […]

  • (L to R) Young Tanya (JESSICA

    'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again' Reviews: What the Critics Are Saying

    At the end of Welcome Msomi’s “Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth,” the cast of 66 South African dancers, actors and musicians break into a spirited, percussion-driven dance with a vitality matched infrequently during the preceding two hours. This “Macbeth,” it seems, is at its best when the Shakespeare is over and done with. Msomi first presented […]

  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

    'Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' Stage Musical in the Works

    At the end of Welcome Msomi’s “Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth,” the cast of 66 South African dancers, actors and musicians break into a spirited, percussion-driven dance with a vitality matched infrequently during the preceding two hours. This “Macbeth,” it seems, is at its best when the Shakespeare is over and done with. Msomi first presented […]

  • Sundance Film Festival Placeholder

    Sundance Festival's Economic Impact Jumps Up 26% From 2017, Study Says

    At the end of Welcome Msomi’s “Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth,” the cast of 66 South African dancers, actors and musicians break into a spirited, percussion-driven dance with a vitality matched infrequently during the preceding two hours. This “Macbeth,” it seems, is at its best when the Shakespeare is over and done with. Msomi first presented […]

  • Aubrey Plaza'Ingrid Goes West' film premiere,

    LA Film Festival Adds Inclusion Initiatives

    At the end of Welcome Msomi’s “Umabatha: The Zulu Macbeth,” the cast of 66 South African dancers, actors and musicians break into a spirited, percussion-driven dance with a vitality matched infrequently during the preceding two hours. This “Macbeth,” it seems, is at its best when the Shakespeare is over and done with. Msomi first presented […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content