Directors seek Kenyan cast for musical classic


Judges Stuart Nash and Regina Re at auditions for The Sound of Music on May1, 2021 at Kenya National Theatre.PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU

Nairobi Performing Arts Studio is half-way through its auditions for the leads to perform the company’s upcoming Christmas musical. They began last Saturday, May 1, at Kenya National Theatre and they’ll continue tomorrow for roles in the much-loved family musical, The Sound of Music.

“Unfortunately, tomorrow’s auditions are closed since we had hundreds of applicants and they must get first priority,” says NPAS artistic director Stuart Nash. “As it is, we will be having three sets of auditions going on simultaneously tomorrow and each one auditioned will get five minutes only for us to get through the applicants we already have.”

The challenge will be to find children from ages five through 18 to play the seven children of widower Captain von Trapp who needs to be around 35 years old or more. The novice nun, Maria, who becomes the children’s nanny and eventually a bit more to the Captain needs ideally to be in her 20s.

It’s a large order to fill. But the show will offer Kenyan youth an opportunity of a lifetime as they participate in this family classic.

One reason the show is being staged is because Loresho ladies alumnae are celebrating their school’s centennial and The Sound of Music was a favorite musical that Loresho Msongari staged more than once under the direction of the late James Falkland.

“We all love the production and will still sing songs from it when we meet,” says Tina Njonjo, a graduate of Loresho Msongari. “I was just six years old when I first saw Sound of Music staged at the school,” she adds. That fond memory got her thinking about ways that Loresho alumnae could celebrate their centennial by recording songs from the musical sung by the group’s members.

“Then I met Noelina Adagala [a Loresho Valley Road alumna] who was also passionate about the musical but suggested the whole show be re-staged live,” says Tina who came around to considering that possibility.

“We also have a vision and want to achieve more than merely put on a musical,” she adds. “We want to inspire young people’s interest in the theatre.”

“We also want to let young people know there are opportunities in the arts to earn a living,” says Noelina who also grew up with fond memories of Kenyan theatre.

“My father was [the late] Seth Adagala,” she adds proudly as we reminisce about her talented father who was also my first stage director back when Seth was the first Kenyan managing director of the Kenya National Theatre.

It was serendipitous that Noeling and Tina, in looking for a director with the capacity to help them realise their vision, got linked up with Stuart Nash who coincidentally was once the artistic director of KNT.

Stuart’s experience staging musicals in Kenya includes shows like Jesus Christ Superstar, Sarafina, The Caucasian Chalk Circle and plans to stage Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s I’ll Marry When I Want in the next year.

Among the eight judges who will be making choices about the cast, most are notable local stage or screen characters. They include Brian Ogola, Regina Ray, Brian Kabuge, and Angel Waruingi among others.

“And our vocal coach will be Andrew Tumbo [the founder-director of Spellcast Media KE],” adds Stuart who is a musician and composer in his own right.

Compounding the significance of these auditions is the fact that filmmakers from the UK are doing a documentary of the process of creating the Sound of Music production.

Janet Wells and Nina Ruiz just recently produced a film on the Kenya Women’s Lacrosse team entitled Sleeping Warrior which they plan to premiere later this year in Nairobi. But for now, they are interested in following the development of this musical. “They plan to make a [documentary] on the process of producing the musical,’ says Stuart.

“We will be filming the auditions and following up on the cast,” adds Janet Wells, who coincidentally is also a graduate of the Loreto schooling system, only in Canada. “We’ll also be filming the rehearsals.”

So the idea is not to film the final production. It is to create what Stuart describes as a ‘talent search’ style of film which ideally will attract global attention to the kinds of creative talents that exist in Kenya today.