Musical theatre coach with a magic touch


Andrew Tumbo, musical director for The Sound of Music, at NPAS offices, Rosslyn, May 27, 2021. PHOTO | POOL

Andrew Tumbo may be best known for being the founding father and musical director of Spellcast Media Kenya.

They are the vibrant theatre company that gave us musical productions like Ella, Mekatilili wa Menza, and Sarafina (which they coincidentally staged almost simultaneously with the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio’s production of the same show.)

But last weekend, Tumbo’s true musical colours came to light in a rainbow array of mellifluous songs at the Jain Bravan Auditorium. That’s because he is currently working as the Musical Director and Coach for NPAS’s latest production of the musical theatre classic, ‘The Sound of Music.

“I’m also conducting the {NPAS] orchestra for the musical,” says Tumbo who considers himself more of a music teacher than performing artist even though he formed his own theatre company which he also directs.

“My only acting role was playing the Snake in Aperture Africa’s production of ‘The Jungle Book’ back in 2018,” he recalls.

Otherwise, his teaching skills in music have taken him all the way from the Premiere Academy and Mpesa Foundation Academy to Strathmore Secondary and The German School.

It was in the roles of musical coach and conductor that we saw Tumbo last weekend reveal not only his enthusiastic teaching style, but also his perfect pitch as a singer with an impressively wide range of musical notes that he can hit effortlessly.

He was conducting NPAS’ final auditions for ‘The Sound’s lead roles. The finalists needed to have that same perfect pitch plus formidable acting skills to get the part they sought. He and the judges had already held two preliminary auditions and now the finalists would take the whole day with Tumbo and the judges.

He had no need to coach Brian Ogolla who effortlessly got the lead role of Captain von Trapp. Brian may be best-known for his acting ‘chops’ as he has been in numerous local sitcoms and films. But what many may not know is that he also has a lovely voice which was the other key factor in his selection to play Van Trapp.

Tumbo’s bigger challenge was coaching the remaining candidates who wanted a role as either one of Von Trapp’s seven children or their governess Maria or the Baroness, a score of singing nuns, or the Nazi officer meant to remind us of the context in which this much-loved musical is set.

The cast was tentatively announced last Thursday, May 27 when NPAS’s founder, Stuart Nash shared the consensus reached between his six judges, Tina Njonjo, Noelina Adagala, Regina Re, Angel Waruinge, Brian Ogolla and Bryan Kabugi and himself.

“I can’t finalise all the names just yet, since they each must accept our offer,” Nash told Weekender. “We’re not yet certain who will play Maria, but the Baroness will be played by Mbeki Mwalimu, the Reverend Mother by Janet Wanjohi, Uncle Max by Drew Muthure and Rolf the Nazi by Chris Martin (who played an Afrikanner cop in Sarafina).

All of them had to pass through ‘coach’ Tumbo who, as we discovered, had the most versatile voice of anyone who auditioned for a part that day.

Accompanied by just one keyboard man named Noah, he took all the aspirants through snippets of all the musical classics of the show, from Doe a Deer’ to The Hills are Alive with the sound of music.’ To spur them on, he would first sing the phrase that he wanted them to sing. That was when we discovered the man’s vocal range is so broad that he could sing Maria’s soprano part in pitch-perfect style as well as all the other musical parts!

What was equally impressive was Tumbo’s enthusiastic approach to conducting groups of singers. Dead serious about getting the best performance of each auditionee, he seemed to have extrasensory perception when it came to seeing a potentially excellent voice even when he or she stumbled at the start. In most cases, the problem was nerves, but he was able to encourage each singer to take their time. Eventually, most everyone gave a sincere performance.

But sincerity wasn’t enough to win them roles. Talent was what sold the judges. Two of the toughest judges were Tina Njonjo and Noelina Adagala, the Loreto alumna who initiated this whole process. They had asked Nash to assist them in staging Sound of Music as the alumna’s way of celebrating the school’s centenary later this year.

Rehearsals begin tomorrow, June 5.

Meanwhile, Liquid Entertainment is staging Masks Off from June 11 at the Kenya National Theatre.