Umoja: The Spirit of Togetherness

This show has now closed, click here for a listing of current and future London shows

Previewed 12 November 2001, opened 15 November 2001, closed 6 February 2002 at the Shaftesbury Theatre
Transferred opened 18 June 2002, closed 31 August 2002 at the Queen's Theatre (now Sondheim Theatre)
Transferred opened 6 September 2002, closed 8 February 2003 at the New London Theatre (now Gillian Lynne Theatre)
Returned opened 31 January 2012, closed 19 February 2012 at the Peacock Theatre

The South African song and dance show Umoja in London.

The Spirit of Togetherness Umoja is a joyous and explosive celebration of South African music and dance featuring sensational voices, senual and thrillingly energetic dancing and the best of South African popular music. With a talented cast of South Africa's brightest and most versatile young singers, dancers and musicians, Umoja tells the story of one man's journey through South Africa, bringing history vibrantly to life. Umoja will make you sing and dance! Devised and created by Todd Twala (choreography), Thembi Nyandeni (costumes) and directed by Ian von Memerty.

Due to complaints of noise from neighbours living adjacent to the Shaftesbury Theatre in January 2002, the show was threatened with closure by the local council. Although all parties involved endeavoured to find a compromise, the local authority finally issued a Noise Abatement Notice and the show's last performance at the Shaftesbury Theatre was on Wednesday 6 February 2002. The producer's then finally found a new London home for the show four months later at the Queen's Theatre.

"Umoja is a gorgeous, glorious celebration of South African song and dance... The company is fabulously talented, and exudes an energy that could light up and warm the whole of Johannesburg... Todd Twala is responsible for the stunning choreography, ranging from a traditional snake dance and stick-and-shield fights to the joyful ensembles featuring a company of nearly 30 turbo-charged, amazingly versatile dancers... Thembi Nyandeni is reponsible for the costumes, a riot of coloured beads and animal skins as well as modern street gear, while director Ian von Memerty has ensured plenty of variations of pace. The high-energy numbers are set against quieter moments of pathos, as well as a dazzling polyrhythmic marimba duet and the grandeur of the gospel songs, which have a surging spiritual power. I defy anyone to leave this uplifting show feeling anything less than elated." The Daily Telegraph

"Umoja treats South Africa as one big, friendly song-and-dance spectacle... [that] exudes a sincere populist commerciality that is hard not to like. The show is the brainchild of the choreographer Todd Twala and the designer Thembi Nyandeni. The two women toured internationally in Ipi Ntombi, a 1970s precursor of Umoja... Having scored a hit in Johannesburg, Umoja takes the West End plunge with a company numbering close to three dozen. Their love of performing is palpable. Ian von Memerty, the director, has slicked up the young cast's skills without sacrificing their warmth or exuberant energy. The show itself is a string of bite-sized scenes tracing South Africa's musical heritage, from drum-based tribalism through to varied episodes of urban living. The laughs are broad and generally low-brow, and there is cursory reference to more contemporary sounds and rhythms... The dancing is well drilled, the singing strong and a five-piece band is on the mark." The Times

"This all-singing, all-dancing show about the music of South Africa simply exudes vitality and goodwill. The sheer warmth and exuberance of the show make it hard to resist, and the singing and dancing are executed with immense brio. But those looking for a substantial analysis of either the music or politics of South Africa would certainly feel short-changed. The show, created by Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, weaves its way through a loose history of the music of the country... This is an uplifting message and the show is big on uplift, as you might expect from a piece whose title means 'The Spirit of Togetherness'. Subtlety, depth and detail, however, are not its strong suits... But as a showcase of young talent and a whistle-stop tour of music and dance, the show breezes along amiably. It is ingeniously directed by Ian von Memerty to allow everyone a solo turn, and the discipline and athleticism of the dancers are as impressive as their energy and versatility. The music itself, played by an on-stage band, is rich and cheering, and when the entire cast sings at full throttle it is surprising that the rafters remain in place." The Financial Times

"Think musicals and pretty high up the list of inevitabilities will be the synthetic grin of the well drilled hoofer. See Umoja , a new show from South Africa, and the wide, genuine smiles of the performers will make you beam, whether you want to or not. This is less a show than a vibrant, colourful showcase of glorious sounds and fabulous dancing in which a narrator, who has more than a passing resemblanceto Nelson Mandela though none of his charisma, takes us through the chapters of African music that have led to the rich contemporary beat... Nothing is ever wasted - the young girls make maracas with fizzy-drink cans - and the sound gets richer and richer and carries with it the history of a nation which sings and dances as if it is liberating something from deep within, as if rhythm is indeed life itself. There is something delightfully refreshing about the absence of sophistication in Umoja; its lack of edge, the ease and naturalness of the performers. I felt like a tourist but, hey, I also felt as if I'd been transported." The Mail on Sunday

Umoja in London at the Shaftesbury Theatre previewed from 12 November 2001, opened on 15 November 2001 and closed on 6 February 2002. It then transferred to the Queen's Theatre from 18 June to 31 August 2002, transferring again to New London Theatre from 6 September 2002 to 8 February 2003.

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