By: Ali Aizaz Zahid

Staging of 'King Kong' is a reminder of the nation's history with apartheid.

Nelson and Winnie Mandela were in the crowd. Miriam Makeba was the female lead. Abdullah Ibrahim played inconspicuously in the orchestra, as did a teenage Hugh Masekela, on a trumpet given to him by Louis Armstrong.

Thrilled by what they saw and heard, the audience members, at first roped into ''white''  and  ''nonwhite'' sections, refused to leave the theater after the show, dancing and talking into the early hours of the morning.

It was Feb. 2, 1959, 11 years after apartheid had been established in South Africa, and barely a year before the Sharpeville massacre, when police shooting into peaceful protests caught the world's attention.

But on the opening night of the musical ''King Kong'', a black composer Todd Matshikiza along with a white creative team and a 72 strong black cast, offered the audience a vision of another kind of country, in which creativity and collaboration prevailed.

THE SHOW -which has nothing to do with the giant ape of movie fame or the musical now being created around that tale was a smash hit, playing to over 200,000 people in South Africa before going to the West End in London for a six month run in 1961.

Princess Margaret came to the opening night. ''It took the playing of  'God Save the Queen' to quiet the audience after the final curtain.'' The New York Times reported afterward.


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