Umoja Moves from Queens to New London, 2 SepDate: 15 July 2002
Following its rather shaky West End start, South African song and dance show Umoja appears to be going from strength to strength, with confirmation that it will transfer this autumn to former Cats home, the 1,100-seat New London Theatre. Currently running at the West End's Queen's Theatre, Umoja will start performances at the New London from 2 September 2002.
Umoja was first seen in London at the West End's Shaftesbury Theatre where it opened on 15 November 2001 but then closed prematurely on 7 February 2002, following noise complaints and the intervention of Camden Council. Prior to its enforced Shaftesbury closure, the show had become a surprise critical and popular hit and had just announced a three-month extension to its original three-month season.
During Umoja's Shaftesbury run, residents in the adjacent flats complained that the live drums used beat too loudly. After visits from environmental officers, the theatre was served with a Noise Abatement Notice and the show closed with immediate effect. Despite weeks of negotiations, thousands of pounds' worth of remedial work to insulate the area, and protests from the Society of London Theatre, mayor Ken Livingstone and others, Theron and the theatre lost their battle to resume the show's season there.
On 18 June (previews from 5 June), Umoja reopened at the Queen's with much fanfare, capped off by a praise-filled speech from the South African ambassador. It is booking there until 31 August.
Created by Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, Umoja incorporates the rhythms of tribal music, gumboot dancing, jazz, gospel and the contemporary sounds of Kwaito and Pantsula. South Africa's musical heritage is represented throughout the show by a company of versatile young singers, dancers, drummers and marimba players, many of whom come from severely disadvantaged township backgrounds.
At the Queen's, Umoja will be followed by the Broadway transfer of Susan Stroman's Tony Award-winning dance musical Contact, which opens on 23 October 2002, following previews. The New London has been dark and undergoing refurbishment since Andrew Lloyd Webber's longest-running musical, Cats, finished its record-breaking run on 11 May 2002, its 21st birthday.
- by Terri Paddock