Theatre legend Jerry Pooe pays homage to the 1976 youth in a thrilling new musical

The cast of the 1976 The Musical. Picture: Val Adamson

The cast of the 1976 The Musical. Picture: Val Adamson

Published Jun 13, 2023


A new theatrical piece, “1976 The Musical”, pays tribute to the relentless young people who took part in the student uprising in Soweto over four decades ago.

Commemorating the events of June 16, it follows the story of a young man, Nkululeko, who refuses to go to the mountain as part of his culture.

The “1976 The Musical” will make its world premiere at The Playhouse Company on June 17, 18 and 20.

The show tells the story of the historic 1976 Soweto Uprising, as seen through the eyes of Nkululeko.

Set against the backdrop of South Africa's struggle for freedom and equality, ‘’1976: The Musical’’ follows the journey of a fearful lead character who dares to challenge the norms and traditions imposed upon him approaching everything with anger and violence.

His defiant spirit leads him on an unforgettable path, where he discovers the transformative power of love because his lover, Happiness, is the voice of reason who challenges him to take charge of his own future.

The production explores themes of identity, resilience, and the strength of community bonds in the face of adversity.

Directed by legendary theatre-maker and the founder of Wushwini Art Centre, Jerry Pooe, alongside renowned record producer Mondli Ngcobo, the star-studded show features Mthobisi Khanyile, Thobeka Ndwandwe, Melusi Yeni, Baby Cele, Nhlakanipho Maphumulo, Nokuthula Mabika and Sthembiso Zungu.

The cast of the 1976 The Musical. Picture: Val Adamson

Pooe told IOL Entertainment he wanted to create a world-class production that would honour the legacy of South Africa's young people who fought against the apartheid regime.

“As someone who worked closely with young people, I’ve been observing that our young people are angry. All they do is point fingers,” said Pooe.

“They don't participate in community issues. They don't participate in politics. They don't participate in governance. And so, I thought, it's important that we engage with our youth, to say to them, ‘If you don't participate, nobody will do it for you.’

“This is why I’m referring to the youth of 1976; they resisted the apartheid government.

The cast of the 1976 The Musical. Picture: Val Adamson

According to Pooe, the show also highlights the significant role that women played during the Soweto uprising, which is often overlooked.

He added that though Nkululeko is the lead in the show, it’s his girlfriend, Happiness, who is the star of the show.

“Happiness is the activist in the story. She is the one who is encouraging Nkululeko to stop being angry and get involved in structures so he can contribute to the change he is longing for.”

The cast of the 1976 The Musical. Picture: Val Adamson

Pooe insists that though the story highlights the traumatic events of June 16, it’s also a love story.

“I decided to take the shape of a love story between two young people, which is Happiness and Nkululeko.

“In this story, Happiness is the voice of reason. When Nkululeko wants to destroy everything and is driven by anger, Happiness steps in.

“Overall, the ‘1976 The Musical’ celebrates and showcases the indomitable spirit of a generation that defied oppression.”

Following its debut at The Playhouse Company this Youth Month, the show is heading to Cape Town’s Artscape from August 14 -19.

“We are still in talks with the Soweto Theatre because as much as this is the story of South Africa, it is the story of Soweto,” concluded Pooe.

Tickets are available at Webtickets for R100 (for the public) and R50 (for school performances). For more information, visit The Playhouse Company website.

031 Theatre Festival at Bridge Theatre, Northlands Primary. Picture: Illa Thompson


031 Festival

Where: Bridge Theatre, Northlands Primary.

When: June 16 - 18.

Spearheaded by Aaron McIlroy and Michael Broderick (Theatre Smiths), and will feature various productions that are performing at this year’s National Arts Festival in Makhanda.

There are two productions for young theatre audiences, “The Great Big Enormous Turnip and ”The Adventure of Who".

“The Great Big Enormous Turnip” is a happy, hilarious, vigorous, wild 40-minute romp through the deep dark woods.

“The Adventure of Who” is a magical quest through a mystical land, written and performed by Kaylee McIlroy.

All shows are R100 and tickets are available for purchase through Webtickets.