A number of positive developments have transpired in South Africa since this superb work of musical theater finished its world-premiere run here last spring; among them is the conviction of a white security guard for the 1991 homicide of Headman Shabalala, lead singer of the black South African singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Dedicated to Shabalala’s memory and based on the true case of his cousin, The Song of Jacob Zulu tells the story of a black youth accused of a senseless act of terrorism that claimed black and white lives alike. Transformed from traditional courtroom drama into something approaching religious ritual by the power of eerily beautiful music–written and sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, now under the leadership of Headman’s brother Joseph–Tug Yourgrau’s play uses Jacob’s trial as the touch point for a searing dissection of how apartheid warps the lives of all it touches, twisting a gentle minister’s son into a mass murderer. Headed for a Broadway opening next month (and before that an engagement at the Festival of Perth in Australia), this richly textured, very moving production has been remounted with almost all its original cast, including the brilliant young LA actor K. Todd Freeman as Jacob, South Africa’s Zakes Mokae as his father, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and a collection of some of Chicago’s best performers in the seamless ensemble sensitively directed by Eric Simonson. This is one of Chicago theater’s landmark productions; if you missed it before, don’t pass it up this time–and hurry for tickets, which are scarce for this limited engagement. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted, 335-1650. Opens Saturday, January 30, 8 PM. Through February 14: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, 8 PM; Wednesdays, 2 and 8 PM; Saturday, February 6 and 13, 5 and 9 PM; Sunday, January 31, 3 and 7 PM; Sunday, February 7 and 14, 3 PM. $34-$38.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.