Monday, June 02, 2008


Photos by The Black Rep (Stewart Goldstein) ABOVE: Playbill of Sarafina with playwright Mbogeni Ngema
The cast of The Black Rep's Sarafina
SARAFINA in step at the Black Rep
By Ma’at Atkins

“There Is No Racism Here.”
“Teach Our Children Reading Not Terror.”
“Down with the Army.”

These are some of the slogans—and uplifting tone-- that were painted signs for the backdrop for South African playwright Mbogeni Ngema’s 1988 Broadway musical SARAFINA, the Tony Award nominated production that closes the St. Louis Black Repertory’s 31 season.

Directed by Black Rep Producing Director and Founder Ron Himes, SARFINA, which plays at the Grandel Square Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square through June 29, is set in the outbacks of South Africa during the Soweto riots of 1976 as told through the eyes of Sarafina (played by ATL actress Sharisa Whatley) , an ambitious schoolgirl actress-activist.

FROM l-r Hal Bates, Jr., (Ensemble), Sharisa Whatley (Sarafina), Johathan Boyd (Ensemble)
The action of the play reaches its vortex after the imprisonment of her inspirational teacher, Mistress (played by East St. Louis native Candice Jeanie) when she was caught teaching her kids about the ills of apartheid, to be independent-thinkers and the struggles of political heroes like Steven Biko and Nelson Mandela. Thus, Sarafina (who becomes the South African version of Gloria Steinheim of sorts) inspires her classmates to rise up and join her in protest.

As with any masterpiece, it is within its fabric that the timeless truth lies—and SARAFINA is definitely a part of that material.

FROM l-r (left rear) Rob Demery (Silence), Jonathan Boyd (Ensemble), Ian Coulter - Buford (Ensemble), (Front Left), Alexis White (Ensemble), Tre'von Griffith (Ensemble)
The topics set in SARAFINA production also stems true today in regards to oppressed society ruled by a capitalist majority, police states, educational issues (forced English as the language over Afrikaan) and the influence of Western culture over the world. Yet, what makes SARAFINA a lasting treasure is its protagonist, Sarafina--doting and bright eyed--who doesn’t threaten the power system within the dominant society (a child and female), who can spew out the hatred of its system. The play evokes these elements when school kids are mercilessly shot down dead by the black police keepers in their classroom.

The cast, which includes members of the company’s Professional Intern Program and the Summer Performing Arts (SPA) program, shines throughout (especially Whatley) and their South African dialects are on point. However what really makes SARAFINA the musical it is are its outstanding dance numbers (choreographed brilliantly by ESL native Keith Tyrone ), which helps to swallow the realistic terror of what apartheid has done and its after effects to a people.

There is never a dull moment in SARAFINA and it will keep you occupied as well as tempted to join the cast in song after the closing number, “Freedom is Coming Tomorrow.”

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company
3610 Grandel Square
Through June 29
Tickets range from $43 to $33.

Student rush tickets (30 minutes prior to curtain) are $10 with valid I.D.
The Black Rep continues its Target “Next Generation Family Series” this season where young people ages 8 -18 are admitted free with the purchase of an adult ticket on Thursday evenings and at all Saturday matinee performances. Limit one child per adult. To reserve your seat please call (314) 534-3810 or visit

Performance Schedule, May 28 - June 29, 2008
Wednesday and Thursday Previews at 7:00 p.m.
Thursday performances at 7:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday performances at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday matinee performances at 3:00 p.m.
Student matinee performances onJune 18 at 10:00 a.m.

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