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'Daniel The Musical': A Gift from South Africa to Israel with Love

Daniel the Musical - Photo: Sam Roberts
Daniel the Musical - Photo: Sam Roberts

Imagine Christians from South Africa, home of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, blessing Israel with a biblical musical. That’s what happened recently with the performance of a Broadway-style musical based on the book of Daniel. 

They called ‘Daniel the Musical’ a gift of friendship from South Africa with love.

“The whole musical was created for the purpose of bringing it to Jerusalem,” said creator and producer Joe Niemand. 

“So part of the message we’ve brought from South Africa is that the vast majority of South Africans are people that relate with Judeo-Christian values -- more than 80 percent and that’s not reflected in our government’s policy,” he said.

Niemand told CBN News that South Africa’s stance against Israel isn’t good for his country and he hopes this gift can begin to change that.

“When God promised Abraham that He would bless those that bless Israel that is the Word of God so for us it’s not political. It’s about believing the Word of the God of Israel and taking Him on it,” he said.

Niemand is an acclaimed songwriter and international performer, who has released 10 albums and is a platinum selling artist.

The musical, performed at the Jerusalem Theatre, aims to blend the biblical story of Daniel and his three friends from Jerusalem with an African style.

“I’m from Africa and taking a period Middle Eastern piece to the Middle East just seemed like a very bad idea. You know like you’re not setting yourself up for success,” he said. 

“In the compositions there are flavors of Middle Eastern harmony but the arrangements are African and that became the bridge between South Africa and Israel and the musical concept for the show,” he added.

The musical opens just before the Babylonians breach the walls of Jerusalem and capture Daniel and his friends. 

(The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in 598 BC and the city fell a year later. The Judean King Jehoiakim died during the siege and Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as a vassal king. But he revolted against Babylon prompting the second siege of the city.  Nebuchadnezzar broke through the Jerusalem's walls and the city fell in 587 BC.  After the fall of the city the Babylonian general Nebuzaraddan was sent to completely destroy the city and Solomon's Temple.)

The musical is based on the biblical story.

We meet King Nebu (Nebuchadnezzar) and his wife, who sings to him that he is the “king of the world.”

We see as the captives as they arrive in Babylon, where they meet Ashpenaz who gives them their new names, takes them under his wing and sings to them, “Babylon is ready to please you… If you go along with Babylon, Babylon will get along with you.”

Clearly Daniel and his friends don’t go along with Babylon but life actually goes better for them because they don’t.

We see Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown in the fiery furnace and coming out alive; and Daniel thrown into the lions’ den. 

The musical is also full of spiritual lessons.  

“I think the mega theme is fear and I think fear is something that is so prevalent all over the world right now and the antidote for it is right there,” said Niemand.

“The reason we are advised to fear God is because when we fear Him we don’t have to fear anything else and He is the only one worthy of fear. So the enemy spends most of his resources trying to instill fear into us because whatever you fear you will worship,” he said. “Whatever you fear will rule over you.”

Niemand wrote the musical in less than six months, miraculously found a theatre on short notice and began rehearsals.

“I almost feel like I’m dreaming.  It’s been such a compressed time and so many incredible miracles that needed to happen and it’s happened,” he said.

Sadly, they had one casualty. After the first performances, 36-year-old lead actor, Andile Gumbi, who played the role of King Nebuchadnezzar, had a heart attack and later died. Gumbi was best known worldwide as the Simba in the Lion King.

After initially canceling the upcoming shows, Niemand and the other performers decided to continue on schedule.

“We knew from the start it wouldn’t be easy.  We had no idea it would be this hard but the point is if God’s word is true when things are good, it’s a test to when things are really challenging if it’s true or not,” he said.

Gumbi’s passing meant Niemand had to play three major roles throughout the show: Daniel's father, King Nebuchadnezzar, and an older Daniel that gets thrown in the lion's den.

The audience loved the musical.

“Certainly the Spirit of the Bible and the actors came through so wonderfully and what’s amazing to me is the miracle that it was put together so fast, how you rehearse something and bring it together so quickly is beyond belief,” said Barry Segal.

“I live in Israel and my family made Aliyah (immigrated from South Africa) and just like God connects all and it was just an amazing performance on the show, I mean it just really got to me,” said Gabriella.

“It was just amazing to see the African spirit transmitted into a biblical play like this. (It) was truly amazing and it was very emotional and very heart-warming to see the support that there is for Israel,” said Barry who immigrated from South Africa.

The musical was clearly a gift well received and producers hope it continues to bless Israel, South Africa and nations around the world.

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