By: Rosie Sharman-Ward, TRP Reviewer
If you could purchase a ticket to pure joy, then a ticket to Freedom Unleashed is just that. Johannes Radebe tells his incredible journey from his home in Zamdela Sasolburg SA, hiding from bullies to the besequinned, flamboyant star of Strictly he is today. Loud and proud from the start, the set and lighting, by Andrew Exeter, uncompromisingly sets the agenda with words such as Pride, Rainbow Nation, Love, Inspire and the ancient African word Ubuntu, the spirit of humanity.
The first half of this dazzling extravaganza comprises of African dances, pantsula, gumboot, kizomba and traditional Zulu, all with added glitter naturally! The opening song, sung by the peerless Ramelo, gives notice as to the standard of the production. What a voice!
The hypnotic rhythms are momentarily drowned out by cheers and screams from the capacity audience as JoJo himself appears. Vibrant and flawless, the whole company is evidently world class but Radebe still shines out like a beacon. The poignant story of the child who always stood out but didn’t fit in. Who was supported by his Mama and encouraged by his teacher to dance, despite the bullies, unfolds in a series of chats direct to the audience in between the amazing dance. He had us all enthralled and totally onside as he smiles, jokes and seemingly looks us all in the eye.
After the interval there comes a pageant of Strictly style dances where the gorgeous costumes, by Helen Robinson-Tsingo, become successively more elaborate and embellished. The transition from soul to sass is complete. With wonderful singing from Ramelo and Duane-Lamonte O Garro we are treated to anthem after anthem. JoJo’s dancing mesmerises. His consummate control over his art at the same time as making it look effortless is a wonder to behold. His hips are a force of nature by themselves! The company delivers sultry tangos, high energy Abba tributes, a slinky version of Cabaret’s “Mien Herr” and a gem of a waltz with Jojo and male dancer Barnaby Quarendon, not quite as searing as the famous tango with Strictly partner John Whaite but nonetheless memorable.
At this point it is hard to know what amazes most: the dance, the sheer number of quick changes or the phenomenal costumes! Driven by the irresistible magnetism of the show, the audience is now on its collective feet. We were invited to clap during the first half, now we were dancing and singing too and it feels glorious. During one of his chats Radebe announces that he is finally able to take this show back home to South Africa. The cheers, applause and shouts of “We love you JoJo” are deafening. Despite the more is more amounts of sequins, feathers and costume changes it is the love and humanity of Johannes Radebe that comes across most of all. He is humble and endearing rather than a diva.
The word spectacular is somewhat overused these days, often to talk up something that isn’t. This whole show, dancers, singers, design and, of course, JoJo is truly spectacular.
The company: Oliver Adam-Reynolds (Dirty Dancing West End), Lila Eccles (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella), Lowri Evans (Johannes Radebe: Freedom), Demmileigh Foster (9 to 5), Jared Irving (Matthew Bourne’s Lord of The Flies), Luke Jarvis (Chicago), Shayna McPherson (Disney’s Aladdin), Joshian Angelo Omana, Barnaby Quarendon (Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake) and Zinzile Tshuma (Thriller)