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September 03, 2012

Santa’s Story opens at the Fugard Theatre

Opera singer Aviva Pelham stars in the moving production Santa's Story at The Fugard Theatre until September 9, 2012. Photo courtesy Jesse Kate Kramer

There is no sweeter or more poignant way to pay tribute to your mother than portraying her on stage in a musical about her life.

This is what opera singer Aviva Pelham does with moving aplomb in the hauntingly beautiful production Santa’s Story, which opened at The Fugard Theatre in District Six on Thursday August 30, 2012.

In this fast-paced memoir, we are introduced to the life and often tragic times of the Jewish Santa, born and raised in war-torn Germany. In a journey spanning decades from Germany to Spain, France and Africa, we see Santa and her family lose their possessions, endure incarceration and suffer humiliation to escape the horrors of Hitler and his followers.

While Santa eventually finds refuge and happiness with a loving husband (Jack Pelham, father of Ava) in Africa; her family, except one brother, perishes during the Holocast. Watching such a personal account of one of history’s darkest periods is quite harrowing.

Aviva, well-known for her award-winning performances in “La Traviata”, “La Boheme”, “My Fair Lady" and “Turn of the Screw”,  does well in this adaptation of Gabi Sulcas's (Santa’s granddaughter) novel, under the direction of the esteemed Janice Honeyman and is supported by a brilliant live band who perform songs that hold special significance in Santa’s life, including La Vie en Rose.

Lighting by theatrical legend Mannie Manim and design by Dicky Longhurst and authentic props add to the realism of the story.

My “Aha” moment, to paraphrase Oprah Winfrey, came when the still alluring 94-year-old subject of the play, Santa Pelham joined her daughter on stage for a closing musical number. There probably wasn’t a dry eye in the audience as we saw mother and daughter in song.

When she later ascended the steep staircase of Fugard Annexe, virtually unaided, I was left feeling inspired that a woman of her grand age, who has overcome such adversity, still has the grace and pride to carry out a task we young folk take for granted. We live in hope that her story will make a difference to the next generation.

Santa’s Story runs at The Fugard Theatre until September 9, 2012. Tickets are between R120 and R150 and are available at Computicket on +27 (0)861 915 8000.

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