MUSICALS MAKE WAVES AT NATIONAL THEATRE
BY Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted April 6, 2017)
Tonight is when Jesus Christ Superstar: the musical opens at Kenya National Theatre. With its star-studded cast, impeccable direction by Stuart Nash and the full National Youth Orchestra providing live rock music (which is still fresh and funky), the show is bound to be a theatrical highpoint of 2017.
Meanwhile, another brilliant live musical was staged all last week at KNT. Bei ya Jioni may not have the most subtle storyline. It’s all about two politicians contesting for a leadership post [in the church] who resort to nefarious means to ensure they get the position.
One resorts to bribery. The other hires a gang of thugs who specialize in acting strategically and covertly on their paymaster’s behalf. The winner is supposed to be elected ‘democratically’. But of course the election process is rigged leading to the ‘loser’ unleashing his thugs to inflict chaos on ordinary wananchi. In the end, the perpetrators of the violence cynically promise to usher in an era of peace and reconciliation.
The correlations between Bei ya Jioni’s church ‘wedding committee’ elections and Kenya’s past national elections are obvious. For me, it’s what makes John ‘JJ’ Juma’s original musical a show that ought to be seen by all Kenyans as it graphically illustrates the tragic consequences that can ensue if the upcoming national elections proceed as they have done in the past.
So whatever the Chatterbox musical may lack in subtly, it makes up for not just in Juma’s dynamic directing and skillful scriptwriting; but also with its incredibly high-octane choreography, swagger in acting (especially on the part of Fiona Kaitesi, Vince Matinde and Morris Mucheru) and overall coordination of the sizeable cast and superlative rock band and vocalists.
The premise and sub-plot of Bei ya Jioni is preparation for a wedding between Kizzy (Ana Mwende Wambu) and Lawi (Yusuf Ang’asa). But their story’s relevance primarily comes out when bride and groom-to-be side with opposing committee candidates. Lawi’s sides with the loser and tragically becomes ‘collateral damage’ during the violent chaos.
The last words in the show come from Kizzy who gives an impassioned plea to not let politics destroy another life. Implicitly, it’s obvious she’s not just speaking about her lost love Lawi. She’s alluding to her country and confirming Bei ya Jioni is a cautionary tale meant to rouse Kenyans to ensure the damage done in 2007-8 doesn’t ever happen again.