The blockbuster musical, The Lion King offered a marvellous opportunity to 132 students of St Mary’s Sportsview Academy to perform, many for the first time, before a live audience last weekend.
Students between ages eight and 10 streamed onto the main auditorium stage at Braeburn Garden Estate School last Saturday.
They were dressed in colourful costumes made to look like everything from birds, hyenas, and wild warthogs to zebra, leopards, and of course, lions.
They also danced to nearly all the classic Disney-generated songs (like Spirit of Life and Hakuna Matata) that some of them knew by heart even before the decision had been made, to produce the award-winning musical, assisted by Nairobi Performing Arts Studio (NPAS).
Stuart Nash and his talented team of teachers had been working with St Mary’s Sportsview students for almost a year.
“But we only began rehearsals for The Lion King since July-early August,” NPAS’s founder and artistic director Stuart Nash told BDLife right after Saturday’s 6 pm show.
A few of the starring roles, like those of the Lion King, Mufasa (Alladeenski) and his villainous brother Scar (Gadwell Ochieng) were played by NPAS teachers.
So was the marvellous monkey, Rafiki (Rita Gitau) who showed up towards the end of the play to convince the guilt-ridden and now grown-up Simba (Kenton Kirimi) that it was time to forgive himself and return home to claim his crown.
But the one who finally convinced him to come back was Nala (Fiona Ndungu) who as a little cub (Jasmine Amani) was the younger Simba’s (Godwin Kioria) best friend.
She is the one who convinced him to give up the ‘hakuna matata’, they don’t care mentality of mediocrity and remember who he was so he could fulfil his destiny and accept his true identity as the lion King.
But besides the lead characters, many talented children stood out as stars in the show.
They include students like Brandon Kariuki who played Timon, Thabiso Ndlela (Shenzi), Ruhammah Mpapale (Pumba), and Fabiola Tiffany Mukami who played Zazu. We expect to see all of them in future shows.
“St Mary’s Sportsview is run with the Kenya national curriculum,” Nash said.
“The only difference between it and most other national schools is that the school chose to include theatre arts in their required curriculum,” he added.
When asked why they did that, Nash suggested he could not speak for the school, except he knew the children wanted it.
That sort of enthusiasm for theatre was apparent on Saturday night when the student cast was having fun doing fancy footwork which they had learned from Alladeenski who also helped NPAS choreograph its other productions, including Sarafina and Ngugi wa Thiongo’s I’ll Marry When I Want.
What I found curious about the Lion King, which is supposedly designed for children to watch, is just how violent it is.
For example, Scar is seriously scary as he assigns his hyenas' troops to go kill the King and his son to ensure he takes over the kingdom, the title, and the power himself.
Scar’s malevolence is palpable, which is a credit to the actor Gadwell Ochieng.
He plays a brilliantly wicked villain, but one I wouldn’t want my child to know too much about.
Nash effectively directed the riotous scene in which we watched the hyenas assassinate the king right before our eyes.
It wasn’t easy to watch, but neither was Simba’s grief when he found the corpse of his dad. These were emotionally wrenching moments.
So was the next one in which Scar convinced Simba that he was indeed responsible for his father’s death, so he would be smart to run away as far and as fast as he could. These were all lies.
Again, I must say the acting was so good that it was troubling to see how much of life was lost by the lion prince accepting as truth what was a flat-out lie, that he was and would forever be guilty of his father’s murder.
This, of course, is one of the features of good theatre.
It is that the tension between good and evil must be so tight and tense as to keep one gripped by the intensity of fraught feelings until something has to give. Either side has to win or lose.
In this case, the winner has to ultimately be the Lion King.
But the boy had to first learn lessons in manhood, and it frankly took a loving woman to teach him that.