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March 7, 2022

The Global Stage: Passport to Kenya


Destination: Nairobi, Kenya 

Nairobi is the capital and largest city in Kenya and is home to a growing theatre community that has a history of startup companies and community groups. The name means “cool water,” from a Maasai phrase referencing the Nairobi River. The most stalwart of the theatres is The Kenya National Theatre, which functions as a home for many groups looking to perform works by nationally recognized playwrights as well as producing groups introducing international works. However, there are many outlets for theatre, including the Braeburn School, The Alliance Française and The Courtyard Theatre—a new downtown venue called The GoDown Arts Centre is also in the fundraising stages.

Theater Company: Call Board/EMC Concepts

“Call Board’s vision is to reignite the creative economy in Kenya and the wider Eastern Africa region, particularly since the industry has taken a significant hit due to the pandemic,” says Tina Njonjo, director of the project. “EMC Concepts was appointed by Call Board Limited because of its marketing and operations experience—my focus is ‘the classics,’ as there is a wide demographic who appreciate the classics but no longer have a place to watch staged performances.”

“Like in many other places, the arts scene in Kenya is richly diverse, but largely informal,” she continues. “We still have a long way to go in shifting cultural mindsets to include music, theatre and the arts as ‘real’ jobs or professions. Only a very small percentage of Kenyans grew up having access to education in the arts. This means that we still have untapped natural talent just waiting to be discovered. It is my hope that Call Board is able to grow the talent and market Kenya as Eastern Africa’s go-to music and theatre destination.” 

Production: The Sound of Music (US/UK)

Music by Richard Rodgers / Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II / Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse

This show was Tina’s first production—she is by profession a lawyer—and they were buoyed by their artistic community, including about 800 initial sign-ups for auditions. “Suffice it to say, we had a fantastic cast! The Sound of Music is a story of resilience and how powerful love and creativity are. Our leading lady, Kavi Pratt, studied music in Italy and playing Maria was Kavi’s first-ever public acting performance. Wanji Ngunyi (Gretl) was only 5 years old when she auditioned, yet she was possibly the actor who missed the fewest rehearsals and was a darling of the audience. Sheila Wanjiru (Brigitta) would travel over 1.5 hours – sheer dedication on her part. Caesar Mchongwe (Herr Zeller) was arguably the best discovered new talent. He had no prior acting or singing experience, but his willingness to learn and challenge himself was remarkable. Then we had the experienced thespians in Janet Wanjohi (Mother Abbess), Steve Murua (Captain von Trapp), Jonathan Opinya (our other Captain von Trapp, with an outstanding baritone!), Angela Mwandanda (Maria Understudy), our indefatigable and humorous Uncle Max, played by the well-loved Chris Kamau. I could go on and on about all the other actors’ journeys.”

Thanks to The Sound of Music being the well-loved musical it is—and with the major contributions of Music Director/Co-Director Andrew Tumbo and Music Conductor Levi Wataka—the production had quite a bit of audience support, including members of the diplomatic community, families and older patrons—even while respecting COVID restrictions. “Thankfully,” said Tina, “Kenyans tend to be largely understanding and culturally supportive of what is for the communal good.”

What’s Next?

Tina would like to stage more classics, and this production was an important first step. “The pandemic impacted the theatre scene in different ways,” she says. “Most creatives lost their livelihoods and ventured into entrepreneurship. Call Board was formed to inspire hope and reignite the creative economy by putting together a much-loved classic, diligently rehearsing and ultimately drawing in those who appreciate good theatre. We hope to keep singing the song in our hearts, to keep the spirit of connection going in a world that has become so disconnected.”

To purchase a copy of The Sound of Music, the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.

Header Image: 2022 Nairobi, Kenya production of The Sound of Music (George Ogillo)