One of the sweetest pre-Christmas presents one can give oneself this season is a trip with several friends to the Matbronze Gallery and Café next weekend, either on Friday December 13 or Saturday, December 14, to sup and be serenaded by the amazing ‘Three’s Company’. They will be performing Seasonings Greetings from 7pm both nights.
The ‘new’ trio doesn’t quite qualify to be called ‘new’ since all three, pianist Michael James, soprano Ciru James and tenor Chris Coutinho have been on stage together in Nairobi several times before, although not as ‘Three’s Company’. And not for quite some time. In fact, their performance will be something of a reunion for three friends who share a love of musical theatre and will share that love ‘musically speaking’ at Matbronze.
“We performed together in ‘Viva Mexico’ at Phoenix Players back in the 1980s,” recalls Chris Coutinho. “That is when Ciru [who was Wanjiru Gecau back then] played the High Priestess and I played Bernardo while Mike was the show’s musical director,” adds Chris who’s been on stage since kindergarten when he proudly sang the National Anthem.
“That was also when we first went on stage together” Chris continues. “At the time, Ciru was teaching music at Kenton College and Mike was also teaching at ISK. But as she needed a musical director since she was staging Oliver at Kenton, and he needed a first-class soprano to play the High Priestess, they assisted one another,” he says, recalling how by then, he had already begun flying with Pan-American Airlines, so he didn’t see them much after that. Nonetheless, they never lost touch.
Chris has been back in Kenya for a few years, but Mike and Ciru just got back in September.
“We had both been teaching and heading music departments in the UK,” says Ciru who is currently working with kids from Korogocho who are part of the group started by Liz Njoroge called Ghetto Classics.
Telling Business Daily a bit about their upcoming performance at Matbronze, Mike asks, “Have you heard of Spagetti Opera? It’s done in Italy; it’s where musicians serenade the dinner guests both before and in between courses during a festive meal,” he says.
From 7pm on Friday December 13, Ciru and Chris will be singing duets before and in between the sumptuous three-course Christmas meal, with Mike accompanying them on keyboard. Then during the meal, Mike and Ciru will be playing festive duets on piano.
The other reason ‘Three’s Company’ don’t qualify to be called ‘new’ is because Mike James is a living legend in Kenya for having launched the first musical theatre productions at Starehe Boys School in the 1980s, staging memorable shows like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ and ‘Dracula Spectacula.
“There really wasn’t a musical performance programme until I started it,” says Mike who also recalls how he also started Inter-house musical competitions. It was thereafter that he moved to ISK, meanwhile performing often with Phoenix Players.
Ciru James also made waves in the 1980s before she left to study overseas. She was a founder member of Musically Speaking, which originally included other Alliance Girls classmates Joy Mboya, Suzanne Gachukia and Susan Matiba. When she left to do her A levels and then proceed on to the Guild Hall School of Music in UK, the quartet became a trio which also made history. But, so did Ciru, performing in musicals like The Mill on the Floss which Mike composeed the music for.
Now that they are back together, their Seasonings Greetings will start off each night with a half-hour’s worth of music from operas like Porgy and Bess and Richard Strauss’s Die Fledermaus and musicals like Guys and Dolls, all sung as duets by Ciru and Chris with Mike accompanying them. Those will come before the first course.
Then after the starters and before the main course, they will perform seasonal favourites. Ciru will also sing an original piece by Mike entitled A new star is our light.
“The song is from the musical entitled Beauty which Mike composed with Fran Morley who wrote the lyrics for,” says Ciru.
Finally, before desert, it will be time for Christmas carols. The trio will provide a set of 24 carols that the audience will be encouraged to sing along to. And throughout the meal itself, Mike and Ciru will play piano duets to keep the evening festive and joyful. In all, it should be a marvelous musical weekend at Matbronze.