Dress rehearsals can never tell you everything you need to know about a new production, especially when there invariably are stops for checks on the sound, the lights and other last minute details coming from perfectionist directors like Stuart Nash who has brought back Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar to the National Theatre stage this weekend.
The new version of JC Superstar has been seriously revised, refined and improved well beyond anyone’s expectations.
The reasons are number one, the casting and number two, the musicians who’ve been hand-picked by Nash. The main difference in the casting is significant since both Martin Githinji, as Jesus, and Nice Githinji, as Mary Magdalene, are seasoned actors who Nash discovered could not only act but sing very well. Both put so much passion into their performances that one should be able to feel their charismatic pull which complements that of Mugambi Nthige who’s still being a treacherous Judas and of Mkazee Mwatela who plays the much-hated Herod with gleeful nastiness.
So even though I only saw half the dress rehearsal I could clearly see this revised version of JC Superstar is a show not to be missed, even if you already saw it once. This production is brand new and a deeply moving experience.
Meanwhile, there’s much to celebrate at the Storymoja Festival this year. Opening September 27 and running through October 1, the first thing is that the Festival was brought back to Nairobi by popular demand after its venturing to West Africa in 2016 to stage the ‘‘biggest literary and cultural festival’’ coming from Kenya in Accra, Ghana.
The second thing is that this year the Festival has expanded its artistic options, bringing us not only books and their brilliant authors but also master classes, workshops and talks by creatives from all over Africa and beyond.
Storymoja’s founder and CEO Muthoni Garland, together with her team headed by leading storyteller Wangari Grace, is also hosting a whole series of theatre productions.
Working in collaboration with The Theatre Company, there will be a range of outstanding theatrical events. One is the return of A Man Like You which has been slightly shortened since the show was recognised by the International Association of Theatre Critics. And according to script writer and director Silvia Cassini, the Theatre Critics were so impressed with the show that they got the whole company an invitation to Hong Kong where they’ll perform at the World Culture Conference which will run from November 2nd through 6th.
What’s equally exciting is that the two Zimbabwean actors who performed in the last staging of A Man Like You will again be part of the current cast.
But in addition to performing at Nairobi National Museum’s Louis Leakey Auditorium during the festival, the two will be performing one-man shows.
Kevin Handssen, who plays the kidnapped British diplomat in the play, will do his much-acclaimed one-man show based on the life of Charles Dickens. “He’s performed ‘Dickens’ with much success all around Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, so I know it will be a treat of Nairobi theatre goers,” said Silvia.
Kevin will also be conducting a workshop on Improvisation. As the founder of the Improv Show, Kevin has years of experience and success in that challenging field. Aspiring as well as established actors need to sign up soon with Wangari Grace to ensure a space in that workshop since I suspect there will be a limit on the numbers and it’s likely to fill up fast.
The other Zimbabwean, Mike Kudakwashe, will also be doing a one-man show at the Festival in addition to playing a bad Somali kidnapper in A Man like you. In sharp contrast to being that bad guy, he’ll be doing stand-up comedy. It’s a show that he too is lauded for back home in Harare.
Finally, the other one-person performance happening in collaboration with TTC is Davina Leonard’s ‘Every Brilliant Thing’. Davina also costars in ‘A Man’, but again, her charming one-woman performance is very different from the role that she plays in Silvia’s gripping production.
There are bound to be other performances, workshops and writers featured during the festival, but for now just know that The Theatre Company’s contribution to the Festival will be large.