Lost in the Stars revolves around Stephen Kumalo (Brock Peters), a black South African minister searching the unfamiliar back alleys and shantytowns of Johannesburg for his son, Absalom. Kumalo's unwavering faith is put to the test when he finds that his son is in jail facing a capital murder charge. Courage, dignity and sacrifice fall prey to the whirlwind of racist hypocrisy and hollow justice in Absalom's trial. Absalom's reunion and reconciliation with his father, his jailhouse marriage to his pregnant sweetheart Irina and his determination to tell the truth, no matter the cost, set the stage for the tragic climax.
Musicals are very much a love/hate type of movie experience in my opinion and I'm not a lover of musicals in theatre either, so this may indicate some sort of bias, however, I went in open minded and came out unchanged. There's nothing particularly wrong with the movie as such, the premise it works around and the tale it weaves are adequately done, but I can't help but feel that the story and the songs are totally inappropriate. As this movie is about racial issues, in South Africa no less, it all falls down on two main points. The first one, although minor, would have helped no end for me buying into it - not one character speaks in a South African accent. This could have been in Detroit for all I'd known (other that the song “Johannesburg” and the English-ness of the Caucasian cast). If I let that slide, then the second fault, in my mind, is just unforgivable - all the songs are very Gilbert & Sullivan-esque. No African roots, no soul, no blues, no jazz and no gospel - it feels very West Side Story, particularly hearing the South African characters singing what only feels like typical white-verging-on-operatic songs. I don't wish to cause offence at all, but I think of a musical such as the Blues Brothers (and it was a musical, let's be honest about that) and think of all the great tunes, from Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles, it was portraying the correct music influences for the characters it portrayed. Ok - I don't expect this cast to start singing “Please Please Me” by James Brown, but I think it would have been more believable and more acceptable to use music that is more inline with the country and the people portrayed. What makes it even more unbelievable is it's preaching against racism, but culturally it's arguably guilty of this by not portraying the roots of the people it's ultimately defending. Not a terrible musical, just seriously at odds with itself.
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