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Art

Musicals set to dominate next two weekends

Kaz Lucas (left) and Elsaphan Njoka rehearse for ‘Grease’.  PHOTO | COURTESY
Kaz Lucas (left) and Elsaphan Njoka rehearse for ‘Grease’. PHOTO | COURTESY  

Musical theatre will be big over the next fortnight, starting tonight when Aperture Africa Productions opens in Robin Hood the Musical at Oshwal Centre Auditorium, directed by Aperture founder Amar Desai. Robin Hood will run through the weekend with matinees and evening performances both Saturday and Sunday.

Also at the weekend, the Nairobi Orchestra will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf with John Sibi-Okumu narrating the charming children’s fairy tale at Braeside Theatre on Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 3pm. The Orchestra will also perform Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony No. 8 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. It will all be performed under the experienced baton of guest conductor Peter Evans.

Then next weekend, the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio (NPAS) will open Friday night, November 24 at Kenya National Theatre in the award-winning Broadway musical, Grease. Directed by NPAS’s founder Stuart Nash, Grease is the long-running musical, set in the 1950s when white working-class American guys ran in gangs, wore black leather jackets and slick greasy hairdos which is why they were called ‘greasers’.

The original Grease was first produced in 1971 written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. It was so successful it was made into a popular film, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Their Nairobi counterparts are Elsaphan Njoka playing Danny and Kaz Lucas playing Kaz. Theirs is a dynamic duo as both were born to be on stage and Grease is the perfect vehicle to see them both shine.

But then, the cast also excels with Nice Githinji (last seen as Mary Magdelene in Jesus Christ Superstar) as Rizzo, Nick Ndeda (just seen in Martin Kigondu’s What Happens in the Night) as Kinickie, Ian Mbugua (currently directing Glass Menagerie) playing Vince Fontaine and Jimmy Casino as Rigga.

The expansive (28-member) music and dance ensemble is made up of mostly NPAS students. Choreographed by Alexis Ndegwa, the musical backup will be provided by Stuart’s favourite musicians, most of whom were most recently heard playing in NPAS’ last musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Their conductor will be Ken Mulwa.

Grease will run from November 24-26 and again, December 8-10.

Meanwhile, it’s tonight that Robin Hood the musical opens on Oshwal Centre’s Chandaria Stage. Bound to be as dazzling a show as Aperture’s last musical production, the award-winning Jungle Book, Robin Hood is an exciting action-adventure based on an ancient legend about a disgraced nobleman who’s lost both his land and his lady love Marian (played by Maya Spybey).

As a consequence, he becomes a kind of ‘avenging’ outlaw hero who robs the rich and gives to the poor.

Robin (played by Tirath Padam) is an expert archer and swordsman who assembles a team of fellow ‘avengers’ in the bush. They include Little John (Sahil Vasani), Will Scarlet (Morris Mwangi) and Alan-A Dale (Riki Gathaariki). They’re pitted against the Sheriff of Nottingham (played by Bilal Mwangi) who is Robin’s nemesis.

Amar Desai, who has both produced and directed Robin Hood the musical, is a specialist in staging grand, glorious and colourful productions complete with marvellous live music (assembled and directed by Andrew Tumbo), dazzling set designs and exquisite costuming.

Aperture Africa has managed to engage a number of generous sponsors including Equity Bank.

One hopes that Amar’s and Aperture’s success will convince more sponsors to come forth and support other outstanding Kenyan theatre shows. A chunk of the Robin Hood ticket sales will go to support the homeless, somehow in the Robin Hood spirit of redistributing funds to the poor.

Finally, this weekend, Sibi-Okumu will narrate another legendary folktale in the form of Peter and the Wolf. Ironically, the tale has its roots in the past but Sergei Prokofiev actually devised both the music and the children’s story in 1936 when he was commissioned by the Central Children’s Theatre of Moscow to create a ‘symphonic fairy tale for children.’

Sibi-Okumu is hardly the first acclaimed actor to perform the role of narrator, written specifically by Prokofiev to serve practically like another orchestral instrument to complement the music which he also composed.

Actors such as the late, great John Gielgul performed the role; so did the beloved British musician David Bowie. So it will be a treat to hear John tell the tale of Peter and the Wolf. Too bad the Nairobi Orchestra has only staged its performance twice. Undoubtedly, both weekend shows will be sold out.

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