Wednesday, January 12, 2022

McCarter Presents DREAMING ZENZILE—New Musical Based on the Life of Miriam Makeba

A Partnership with Octopus Theatricals, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, McCarter, New York Theatre Workshop, Arts Emerson and National Black Theatre


January 20 - February 13, 2022
WHERE: Berlind Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center, 90 University Place, Princeton
TICKETS: $25-$60 for information and tickets

McCarter Theatre Center presents the world premiere musical Dreaming Zenzile, based on the life of Miriam Makeba, written and performed by Grammy-nominated international music sensation Somi. 

At her final concert, South African musical legend and activist Miriam Makeba delivers the performance of her life, raising the conscience and consciousness of a people. But the ancestors are calling—transporting her through the music and fractured memories of her past on a spiritual journey of reconciliation. Created and performed by Somi Kakoma, and directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, this unique jazz musical is an electrifying portrait of a revolutionary artist’s singular voice and vision.

The stage musical comes to life seven years after Kakoma started working on the project, and more than a year into the pandemic. Its premiere at The Repertory Theater of St. Louis was halted days before its original opening night in March 2020. Determined to bring Makeba’s inspirational story to the stage, seven celebrated producing organizations joined forces to re-activate the show. This “rolling world premiere” brings together Octopus Theatricals (Hadestown Broadway,) Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, McCarter, New York Theatre Workshop, Arts Emerson and National Black Theatre.

The musical features a live jazz band playing original music and reinterpretations of Makeba’s remarkable catalog. Somi stars as Makeba and the Sangoma Chorus features Aaron Marcellus, Naledi Masilo, Phindi Wilson and Phumzile Sojola. Hervé Samb plays guitar and is musical director with musicians Toru Dodo (pianist), Pathe Jassi (bass) and Sheldon Thwaites (percussion).

Somi’s forthcoming album ZENZILE: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba will be released on March 4th, 2022—what would have been Makeba’s 90th Birthday.

McCarter Theatre Center values the safety of its audiences, artists, and staff. Proof of vaccination (with photo ID) and masks are now required for all performances. Please review our COVID-19 policy to learn more.


“Miriam Makeba's lifelong commitment to justice is a lasting example of how we can choose grace and forward motion despite great duress and struggle. Throughout this pandemic and in the midst of a national discourse of institutional racism, her story reminds us to stay the course and remain hopeful. If this piece can inspire hope in the hearts of the audience when they need it most, then the risks we've taken to share it will be worthwhile.”

“'Zenzile' is Miriam Makeba's first name, and, in Xhosa, it means 'you have done it to yourself.' This piece is a meditation on the agency she had both in her living and in her dying. My hope is that the work might serve as a reminder for all of us to lean into what we love and then hold on to the agency that that thing affords us. Real change, real revolution begins with self. Makeba's life and music suggest she knew that and that's why I can still put on an album of hers and be deeply inspired. The voice lives! The question is: how will/does yours live?”

was one of the first African singers to make it big around the world—wowing viewers of “The Steve Allen Show” in 1959 with her powerful voice and vibrant stage presence. In the early ‘60s, she sang at President John F. Kennedy’s (infamous) birthday party and charted on Billboard. While stardom came easily, international politics proved more complicated. Makeba was raised in a South Africa that refused to grant even the most basic civil rights to its Black majority. The South African government revoked Makeba’s passport in the 1960s after she spoke critically of apartheid. She had to miss her own mother’s funeral. Makeba became more outspoken, lending her support to the civil rights cause while in the U.S.; and it was only after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, more than 30 years after her exile, that she finally returned home to South Africa.

SOMI KAKOMA / PLAYWRIGHT & PERFORMER The acclaimed vocalist and songwriter known simply as ‘Somi’ in the jazz world, was born in Illinois to immigrants from Uganda and Rwanda. The Huffington Post once dubbed her "the new Nina Simone," while NPR describes her as "an ambitious artist and superb jazz singer [who] creates an elegant amalgam of her bi-continental experiences. Mentored by the late Hugh Masekela, Somi is known as both artist and activist. She is a Soros Equality Fellow, USA Doris Duke Fellow, a TED Senior Fellow, a Sundance Theatre Fellow. Her latest release, Holy Room - Live at Alte Oper with Frankfurt Radio Big Band, earned her a 2021 GRAMMY nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album. With that nomination, Somi became the first African woman ever nominated in any of the GRAMMY jazz categories. The album also won Somi’s second NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album. Her previous award-winning releases on Sony Music’s historic jazz label OKeh Records include Petite Afrique, a song cycle about the dignity and gentrification of Harlem's vibrant West African quarter, and The Lagos Music Salon, which was inspired by an 18-month sabbatical in Lagos, Nigeria. Somi holds undergraduate degrees from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a master’s degree in Performance Studies from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and is currently pursuing a doctorate in Creative Practice & Critical Inquiry at Harvard University. Dreaming Zenzile is her first play.

LILEANA BLAIN-CRUZ / DIRECTOR Lileana Blain-Cruz is a director from New York City and Miami. Recent projects include Anatomy of a Suicide (Atlantic Theater Company); Fefu and Her Friends (TFANA); Girls (Yale Repertory Theater); Marys Seacole (LCT3, Obie Award); Faust (Opera Omaha); Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine (Signature Theatre); Thunderbodies and Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again (Soho Rep.); The House That Will Not Stand and Red Speedo (New York Theatre Workshop); Water by the Spoonful (Mark Taper Forum/CTG); Pipeline (Lincoln Center Theater); The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World (Signature Theatre, Obie Award); Henry IV, Part One and Much Ado About Nothing (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); The Bluest Eye (The Guthrie); War (LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater and Yale Rep.); Salome (JACK); Hollow Roots (the Under the Radar Festival at The Public Theater). She was recently named a 2018 United States Artists Fellow and a 2020 Lincoln Center Emerging Artist. She is currently the resident director of Lincoln Center Theater. She is a graduate of Princeton and received her MFA in directing from the Yale School of Drama.

McCARTER THEATRE CENTER An independent not-for-profit performing arts center located between New York City and Philadelphia – and on the campus of Princeton University – McCarter is a multi-disciplinary creative and intellectual hub offering theater, music, dance, spoken word, and educational programs for all ages. Celebrated for developing new work, and winner of the 1994 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre, world premieres include Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Tony Award, Best Play), Tarell Alvin McCarey's The Brother/Sister Plays, and Emily Mann's Having Our Say. Renowned artists who have appeared at McCarter include: Alvin Ailey, Yo-Yo Ma, Audra McDonald, David Sedaris, The Moth, Terence Blanchard, Roseanne Cash, the rock band Lake Street Dive, Shawn Colvin and more. McCarter connects with the community year-round with a Shakespeare Reading Group, digital programming, a free outdoor concert series, on-site classes and in-school residencies. McCarter and Princeton University share a long history of unique partnerships and creative collaborations. MORE: