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Nelson Mandela’s life long struggle for political equality in South African made him a towering figure in human history. His fight against tyranny, oppression and racial discrimination is legendary. For 27 years he was imprisoned for opposing an unjust system of minority white rule. Upon his release in 1990, he set about working with the ruling government to dismantle apartheid for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Four years after gaining his freedom he was elected the first black President of South Africa. In 2014, when he died at the age of 95, the world mourned the passing of Madiba, the tribal name given to him by his clan.

Madiba – The Musical, is a tribute to Nelson Mandela, written by the French author and composer Jean-Pierre Hadida. First performed in Paris and then around the French speaking world for the last two years, the current production at the State Theatre is the first time the show has been staged in English. The show will go on to tour Australia and New Zealand.

A musical celebration of one of the most important political figures in the latter half of the 20th century is a tall order to fill. And while the second half of the show rises to the challenge, the first half is sluggish. The musical score is a pastiche of different musical styles from flat Broadway numbers to explosive South African inspired rhythmic dance compositions. The ensemble cast is superb, the costumes and choreography are stunning. The second half of Madiba comes as a well-earned reward for waiting out the first half of the show.

Until Nov 11. State Theatre, 49 Market St, Sydney. $69-$152+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.madibamusical.com.au

Reviewed by Lawrence Gibbons