A love letter from South Africa’

The world premiere of Daniel The Musical took place on October 10 at the Jerusalem Theater, with a South African cast of 30 talented singers, dancers and actors.

A scene from 'Daniel the Musical'  (photo credit: Courtesy)
A scene from 'Daniel the Musical'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘I was sitting at the beach and I felt that God spoke to me and said there is a small window of opportunity to make a musical about the story of Daniel,” says producer Joe Niemand, who had just recorded an album of songs, one of which – “God of Heaven” – his wife told him was perfect for Daniel to sing in the lion’s den.
A short time later, a woman called Niemand, an award-winning songwriter and international performing artist, to say she had a vision of him performing in Israel. Niemand contacted the Jerusalem Theater, which told him that it was booked up until 2020. So he flew to Israel with a friend and went to the theater, whose administrator told them that the theater was undergoing renovation.
“I said to the lady, ‘Hypothetically, if I would take all the risk that your building project would finish by the end of September, could I have October?’ And she said, ‘Hypothetically, yes.’ I just grabbed the ‘yes’ and I ran with it.”
The world premiere of Daniel The Musical took place on October 10 at the Jerusalem Theater, with a South African cast of 30 talented singers, dancers and actors staging “the amazing story of Daniel as an African adventure.”
“It’s the Hebrew story of the Book of Daniel, but the way we tell it is in an African way,” says Niemand. “We’ve gone into our culture, the Zulu and Xhosa cultures, and we’ve taken those rich fabrics and the colorful soul of Africa and breathed it into that story. It really is a celebration of what we have in common.”
The program describes the two-hour tour de force as “a musical production of epic proportions that brings to life this gripping story of heroic faith, with the flair and passion of Africa.”
Niemand plays the part of the older Daniel, while Andile Gumbi, who performed as Simba in both the Broadway and West End productions of The Lion King, stars as King Nebu. The multi-talented cast  – women and men, white and black – includes recording artists, film and television actors and dancers who have appeared in musicals ranging from Sarafina and Chicago to Sister Act and The Blues Brothers.
The plot, according to a press release, echoes the captivating biblical story. “Daniel and his friends are abducted by King Nebu and face many challenges in Babylon where their faith in the God of Israel is tested beyond human limits. Will they overcome fear and remain true?”
Before the premiere, Niemand and Steven Swart, a member of the African Christian Democratic Party in South Africa’s Parliament, hosted a cocktail reception.
“I felt inspired in April this year to write the musical about the story of Daniel, and then to bring it to the home of that story, Jerusalem,” Niemand tells us. “We were inspired to not back down and not take no for an answer, because we really believed that we’d been sent here to show support for the people of Israel.”
Responding to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, which originated in South Africa, Niemand adds, “It’s so easy to boycott, it’s so easy to divest. It’s not easy to create something, and to create something in love takes time and effort and a lot of resources.
“This tonight is, I can say, a love letter from South Africa to the people of Israel,” Niemand declares. “We represent the vast majority of South Africans who love Israel and stand with Israel. This is the most beautiful way we could think of to show that love and show that support. I hope you will take this message and spread it far and wide.”
Swart says they were warmly welcomed in Israel and had the honor of meeting President Reuven Rivlin to convey “warm wishes” from South Africa.
“I want you to know that there are people in South Africa, like myself, who are proud to proclaim in parliament, ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ [The nation of Israel lives],” Swart says. “Joe has gone out on a limb to bring this show as a blessing to you, because Israel has been such a blessing to the world.”
Niemand has the final say, quoting from Genesis 12:3.
“We have come to bless you, but we also believe that in coming here, our people will be blessed.” To which the appreciative audience responds, “Amen.”
To purchase tickets, visit https://bit.ly/2KT3e62