By Damiete Braide
Four years after a successful performance in Nigeria, Davos, Switzerland, the award winning play, Kakadu the Musical took the centre stage during the [email protected] celebration, before heading to the Nelson Mandela Theatre, Johannesburg, as part of the Africa Day Celebrations from the 7th to the 18th of June 2017.
Since its premiere in May 2013, Kakadu has not only redefined live theatre but also stimulated interest in the production of several other musicals, such that it has become a reference for others.
Written by Uche Nwokedi, SAN, who is also the Executive Producer, and directed by Kanayo Omo, Kakadu is a musical capturing the possibilities, great music and distinct social life following the birth of a young nation during the 1960’s.
A nation celebrates the end of colonialism and the promise of a bright new future in a city that is as colourful and hedonistic as any European city in the 60s. At the heart of the city is Kakadu, a popular night club and a mecca of music of all genres and fashion. During this period, Kakadu’s live music encompassed Anglo-American pop, Latin beat, highlife and even ballroom. This jubilant music added to the stunning swinging 1960s costumes, extravagant hairstyles and the assimilation of western attitudes gives it a stylish and exuberant sense of time and place.
Kakadu is the journey of four friends through a time of the infinite possibilities. It is a time to dream and to hope. The four friends echo the ethnic diversity of the newly independent country. At the centre of it all is Kakadu’s charismatic manager, Lord Lugard (played by Benneth Ogbeiwi), a larger than life character who symbolises the pleasure seeking spirit of the club. Then the military coups set off a chain of events which lead to the civil war (the Biafran War) and changes begin to occur to their relationships.
The musical is a story of dreams and hopes, of peace and war, of friendships and broken promises, of pain and loss, and of love and innocence. It is an exciting blend of the western music of the 1960s that influenced musical expressions during post-independence Africa, with highlife, afrobeat, contemporary and traditional Nigerian folk music, to produce the most wonderfully eclectic musical ever.
Significantly, Kakadu is about building bridges, promoting peaceful co-existence. This just as reearsals for the show in Nelson Mandela Theatre, Johannesburg as part of the Africa Day Celebrations from the 7th to the 18th of June 2017, is already generating global interest, just as a video clip of rehearsal has gone viral.
Said the director, Omo, “This is actually the first time a stage performance is going from Nigeria to South Africa. Even when the National Theatre was opened in 1977, it was Ipi Tombi that they used to open it. So, Kakadu is going to be staged in what is more or less their own national theatre, the Mandela Theatre is a big iconic theatre sitting over 1,000 people.
“And we have a new young cast, extremely enthusiastic, extremely talented. More importantly, we are also going to be doing a workshop in Soweto, so we are going the heart of the apartheid struggle. Basically, we are looking a Kakadu as a classical African story. The problems that were addressed in Kakadu are in every African country. Kakadu has, no doubt, revived musical theatre in Nigeria, so “it has given birth to a new genre of theatre and it continues to grow”.
Omo, who is an artiste and director with over 30 years’ experience on stage and screen, hinted, “What is new in Kakadu now? Every year we’ve had to create a foundation to get true acting, to get to true delivery of the story. The story remains the same, but some things have changed. But what is most important now is the actors are giving life to the story in a unique way that they haven’t before. It is not about telling people what to do; it is about them bringing material to the story, building a very powerful experience and delivering it to an international stage.
“It is not about entertainment only, it about making a difference in people’s lives. Kakadu is a classical story; it has all the elements of a classical story – love, betrayal, denial, conflict, pain, joy, ecstasy, belief, disbelief; all the necessary areas. And because Kakadu is our story, the story of our time, we relate to it in history; we can relate to it now. Any nation you take Kakadu to, they will find the relevance to it. So, it is such a rich experience to be able to see people who are telling a story that their parents experienced. And now they are applying it from the level of truth that will even change the lives of their parents when they see it.”
Ogbeiwi noted that Kakadu could actually “address the little issues we have about ethnicity, politics, religion, and, of course, the question that lingers in the mind of every Nigerian: how do we build, reconcile, reconstruct and rebuild a nation. Kakadu centres on the friendship which we had before independence, and, of course, after independence, that went sour.”