Ever since the Kenya National Theatre got its ‘extreme makeover’ with assistance from East African Breweries back in 2015, it has hosted one major musical production after another.
Thanks mainly to the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio, we’ve seen beautiful performances of everything, from Jesus Christ Superstar and Grease to Sarafina most recently.
And now that Tinga Tinga Tales, the Musical is coming to KNT next Friday to run for the whole of September, Kenyans will have a chance to see one of the most exhilarating, original and heart-warming productions that has yet to grace the national theatre stage.
Originally based on the animated ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’ that kids can still watch Saturday mornings on TV, it was when TTT’s producer Claudia Lloyd got together with Kenya’s own acclaimed singer-songwriter Eric Wainaina that the live and oh-so-magical musical production came into being.
First staged at The Elephant in Lavington in 2016, Tinga Tinga Tales, the Musical was a smash hit. However, some theatre lovers guessed the show was mainly for children, which it is.
But given the quality of the casting, costuming, choreography, storytelling and Eric’s electrifying music (including five new songs), this new version of Tinga Tinga Tales is more than a must-see production. It’s a show that is already making history as it’s booked to premier at the New Victory Theatre in New York City’s famous 42nd Street District, from October 16 through the end of the month.
Tinga Tinga Tales, the Musical is not the first major musical production that Eric Wainaina and Sheba Hirst have taken to New York. In 2009, they brought Mofaya including its all-Kenyan cast to feature in the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
Wainaina was the composer and musical director of Mofaya, just as he is for Tinga Tinga Tales, the Musical. He also co-starred then as now with an outstanding cast. Only this time, he’s got an even larger and more melodious cast. And as marvellous as the original Tinga Tinga Tales, the Musical cast was in 2016, only Wainaina (as Monkey), Elsaphan Njora (playing Tortoise) and Karimi Wamae (as Butterfly) are still there.
Auditions for new cast members incited an array of amazing young theatrical talent to come out and get into the show. “They can all dance, sing and act brilliantly,” according to Claudia Lloyd who with Wainaina and Hirst hand-picked a cast that includes a stunning team of Kenyans whose voices will ring as clearly as crystal bells thanks to the sound crew and superlative equipment that have been brought in specially for this show.
Starting with the former radio broadcaster Eddy Kimani who plays Lion, there’s Ray (aka Raaay!) Kibet as Elephant, Atemi Oyungu as Hippo, Alvan Gatitu as Chameleon, Kendi Nkonge as the Queen Bee, and Nyokabi Macharia (who just played Legends last week in The Brazen Edition of Too Early for Birds) as Giraffe.
And while Wainaina is the master mind and maestro of the show, Tinga Tinga Tales, the Musical shines a light on all in this exceptional cast who’ve been rigorously rehearsing under Lloyd’s professional direction for weeks.
There are so many exceptional aspects of this production that will hopefully compel both parents with children and all other theatre-lovers to come out in support of this show. The lighting, sound and all the other technical details are being cared for by professionals. The make-up will be magical and even the costuming will be provided by Kiko Romeo.
And then because the seats at the national theatre have such high backs that little people won’t be able to sit and see the stage, Tinga Rain Productions (which is Hirst) ordered 280 zebra-covered cushions so that every child will be able to sit and see everything happening on and off the stage.
The other thing that is a major change in the theatre is the decision to extend the stage over the orchestra pit. That way, performers can be closer to their audience and there’ll be more room for the Festival of Colours and other magical events that will come alive as the tinga tinga tales are dramatized and told.
Fortunately, Safaricom and the Mount Kenya Nature Conservancy are partially sponsoring the show. But as the production is being run by perfectionists, the costs of the show are high, as are the tickets. The good thing is that a free tickets will be given away daily during the show through Capital FM radio.