By Peter Feldman
Hazel Feldman is one of South Africa’s leading theatre producers who over the years has brought to South Africa some of the most illustrious names in show business.
During her stint as entertainment director at Sun City in its golden years in the 1980s she was responsible for importing every major name to grace the Superbowl stage, from Frank Sinatra to Liza Minnelli; from Paul Anka to Elton John; Rod Stewart, Cher, Shirley Maclaine, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton… the list of celebrity names is endless.
Today Hazel is charting a different path and has introduced audiences to glittering stage musicals of the calibre of ‘Jersey Boys’, ‘Dreamgirls’, ‘Fame’, ‘Chicago’, ‘Menopause – The Musical’ and We Will Rock you, to name a few.
Her plans for this year are varied.
Asked how difficult it has become to mount first class shows in South Africa in light of the economic situation, Hazel told me: “It’s very difficult. There are two key issues here and these are the state of the economy in South Africa and the Foreign Exchange Rate. There is a limit to the prices we can charge for tickets – but international managements only see the revenue in terms of the foreign currency.
“So when we are charging around R350 and R450 for a ticket, that is only around $22 to $28. The average ticket price on Broadway is around $80 to $150, and for concerts it’s upwards of $150. It’s very difficult to get international managements and agents to take South Africa seriously as a viable destination. And from a local perspective every ticket carries a 14% VAT deduction plus other costs. It’s not easy right now.”
Despite these challenges Hazel perseveres, though she admits she has no idea why she continues in the business. “Whenever I talk about retiring – the phone rings and I cannot say ‘no’.”
South African audiences are changing all the time and Hazel believes they have become far more discerning. “They have been treated to world-class entertainment over the past decade and the expectation levels are high.”
Hazel has to meet a busy schedule and has a full plate of productions geared for the remainder of the year. “We have ‘Disney on Ice’ opening on June 24 at the Ticketpro Dome. This is an annual feature and we are loving the fact that it seems to have become part of the annual calendar for families.”
Another production, the celebrated ‘Slava Snowshow’, opens at the Teatro, Montecasino on July 26 and should prove a hit. “We believe in introducing new, exciting and innovative entertainment. Slava is hauntingly beautiful and has played to enormous success and acclaim around the world,” she said.
Over the past 20 years, this unmistakably unique, yet constantly evolving comedy masterpiece has played in more than 120 cities including New York, London, Sydney, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Moscow and Rio de Janeiro.
In October ‘Annie’, one of the great stage musicals, opens at Pieter Toerien’s Theatre and forms another collaboration between her and renowned theatre owner and producer Pieter Toerien. She said: “‘Annie’ is one of the best loved musicals of all time with an amazing musical score.”
In November, Hazel is bringing back the incredible ‘Cirque Éloize iD’ for a short season, a hip hop/cirque extravaganza that is unbelievably good. It was last here two years ago and audiences were literally blown away by this bewildering high-energy production that blends breathtaking acrobatics and street dance. As Hazel put it: “It’s a family show that will leave you breathless.”
Hazel reveals that she is fortunate to have established a working relationship with Toerien. She explains: “While we do a number of our own shows, we do collaborate on certain musicals and I have learned so much from him.”
Another facet to her career is her ability to mount shows both in South Africa and then tour them where possible in Asia. “Our talent is world class and is now accepted as such. And we can earn in foreign currency which has obvious benefits. Unfortunately we can only play in Asia and New Zealand because of Equity and union restrictions on South African talent in Australia, Europe and the UK.”
Asked whether she saw a bright future for entertainment in South Africa, Hazel replied:”Optimism is my middle name. We just have to be smart – and entertainment will always have a place in South Africa.”