Broadway musical theatre energizes Kenyan youth


Youth Theatre Kenya took part in Musical theatre workshop with Broadway Arts Community on stage at Braeburn School, on April 9, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

It was only a week-long musical theatre workshop with Chryssie Whitehead, representing the Broadway Arts Community (BAC).

But the woman came determined to have an impact on all the children who had signed up since last February when Jazz Moll of Youth Theatre Kenya (YTK) placed a publicity poster in social media and got a flood of applications back.

“In all, there were around 90 children that performed,” Lizzie Jagoo told Weekender moments after last Saturday night’s showcasing of the children’s newly acquired theatrical skills.

Jagoo is the drama teacher at Braeburn School (Gitanga Road) where the BAC workshop went on for five and a half days nonstop. She’s also an advisor to YTK who, with Jazz, provided technical support for the workshop while Chryssie coached the kids.

YTK and Braeburn also hosted the workshop, and the School provided an excellent stage for the hour-long performance.

“Where one could most clearly see the impact that Chryssie had on the children was the result of the one-on-one coaching that she gave to the kids who asked for it,” recalled Jazz.

In fact, the Showcase itself consisted, not of a specific musical, but mainly of memorable songs from popular musicals like Wizard of Oz, Rent, Oliver, Matilda, and Les Miserables.

Unfortunately, the sound system was wanting, up until a hand mic was found and given to the singing soloists, more than half of whom had already sung.

But somehow, it didn’t really matter how audible the singers were since they all had such impressive stage presence, one could see that each child was a star-in-the-making, whether he or she was 8 or 16.

Chryssie herself wasn’t shy on the night of the Showcase at the end of the kids’ performance. She announced that most of the children, including the soloists, had never performed in front of a live audience before. (Neither had she ever performed before with a live band, especially as good as Ghetto Classics.) Yet they all displayed a poise that’s usually associated with years of experience.

As Lizzie noted, one had to credit Chryssie with spreading her own infectious love of musical theatre with all of these kids who had happily worked with their Coach daily from 9 am till 6 pm apart from Saturday when they had to stop early because they needed to get set for their Saturday night performance.

“We didn’t go in for fancy costumes,” Chryssie told her house-full audience. The implication was that they were too busy learning their lyrics, their dance steps, and their determination to impress their audience with their high-energy performance. “Instead, we all agreed to wear black.”

Explaining at the outset that it had taken her two years to get her act together to come to Kenya from New York City where she teaches musical theatre full time, she noted.

“I had to take a five-week leave of absence from my teaching, but I had been looking forward to this trip ever since I heard about the group ‘Artists for Africa.”

AFA is a fund-raising group started by the Dance Centre Kenya founder and artistic director, Cooper Rust. The former prima ballerina from South Carolina has been fund-raising so Kenyan youth from under-served areas could get scholarships to study dance and ideally dance their way out of poverty as has already happened with a number of her former students.

Chryssie is also from South Caroline, and through linking up with Cooper, she was finally able to make it to Nairobi. “When she asked Cooper, who was doing Musical theatre, Cooper directed her to us,” says Lizzie.

“We were happy to host her, just as we’ve been glad to introduce our YTK members to artists from London’s West End as well as from……,” says Jazz, who feels once his members have the experience of working with all of these musical theatre groups, they will be better prepared to begin creating their own Kenyan musical theatre.

In the meantime, seeing almost 90 children singing and dancing in sync with one another was a marvel to behold. The performers were split between the younger bunch and the older ones. But at the end of the showcase, the whole bunch got on stage and still managed to perform together beautifully.

Before that happened, however, six young Kenyan dancers from DCK performed to illustrate how dance is also an essential part of musical theatre.

One must hand it to Ms. Whitehead for coming and giving so generously to Kenyan youth. But as much as the kids have gained from the week’s experience, one knows Kenya’s been stamped indelibly on the lady’s soul.