Troupe attempts to revive theatre for development

US President Barack Obama is long gone from our land. But Barack Obama the Musical is still around and will soon be staged after a false-start last weekend when the scheduled show didn’t go on.

George Orido first scripted, scored, choreographed and staged the Obama musical back in 2008 and the show got rave reviews then.

This time round the show was to coincide with the US President’s presence in the country. Unfortunately, the newly renovated Kenya National Theatre wasn’t quite ready for the revival run, but it could be happening later this year.

Meanwhile, what was staged last weekend at the Alliance Francaise was an original work by a new theatre company called Creative Media Concept (CMC).

Keen to revive a once thriving theatre-for-development style of production, CMC was founded by Maida Nyawade and Raphael Makokha in 2010 but nothing theatrical got off the ground until after they had produced several successful film documentaries around issues related to the youth.

CMC’s first show, The Broken Mirror, is still evolving according to the troupe’s technical director Brenda Milimu. In fact, in its current iteration, the show is meant to serve simultaneously as a musical production, complete with a series of playlets reflecting social concerns relevant to the groups CMC aims to serve – the youth, those with disabilities and other underserved groups.

The show is also meant to become a pilot to be shared with media houses that could be interested in a Broken Mirror TV series.

The challenge of aiming to achieve two ends in one show made the production a bit of a jumble. For while the musical voices were sumptuous (especially those of Emmanual Wachesa and Vincent Mseri), the live band upbeat and professional and the choreography fun and well-rehearsed, one kept looking for an underlying theme that would thread all the playlets together, but it wasn’t apparent.

The topics of the playlets varied widely from scene to scene, which is no surprise since each was devised by one cast member, probably explaining the little cohesion or continuity from one scene to the next.

This meant the audience had to find their bearings at the outset of each piece, not bad in itself, especially as the costuming was thoughtful and varied, the set designs simple and the backdrops were skillfully hand painted to cover all the visible wall space.

Each playlet was engaging, told swiftly and smoothly in graphic detail with musical medleys interspersed throughout and cast members flowed on and off the stage in perfect time, synchronised well with the music and the story line.

On a more ideological note, the group needs to double check each devised script to ensure they all truly reflect the values CMC purports to represent.

For instance, the tendency to refer to young women as sex objects (as for instance in the scene of the pensioner and the dowry sought for his fifth wife) went unchallenged by the group, which incidentally has far fewer female cast members than men.

And since theatre-for-development shows are meant to contain a social message, I suggest the group sharpen and clarify its focus.

There’s an enchanting story of a young girl (Fiona Olunja) who aspires to get a university education but since both her parents are dead, she doesn’t have school fees.

She recalls her mother was quite entrepreneurial, starting her own business selling ground nuts for a living. So the girl begins to do the same in hopes of raising enough money for school fees.

But then in her naiveté she agrees to sell capsules, which turn out to be illegal intoxicants. She gets caught when, out of curiosity, she tries one and gets so high she practically invites the cops to arrest her.

So what’s the message? Not to be curious? Not to be entrepreneurial? Not to strive to rise above one’s low social status through education?

I’m told the message was meant to be don’t do drugs but this, and some of the other playlets’ messages, are muzzy and mixed. I like CMC for their ambition, vision and goals. They just need a bit of time to get their act together with sharper clarity and direction.

Finally, Heartstrings is staging Behind every Kenyan’s Stomach at the Alliance Francaise through the weekend and Phoenix Players open tonight in Sorry I Love You directed by Jacob Otieno.