One sure way to lift your spirits as the holidays draw near is to go see Grease, the musical at Kenya National Theatre that will show from December 8 to10.
The latest production by the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio in collaboration with the Kenya Cultural Centre is a high-energy rock ‘n’ roll romp that may well make you also want to get up and dance.
With a marvelous cast selected by Grease’s director Stuart Nash, the founder of NPAS managed to find a slew of truly gifted young Kenyan actors (including several award-winners) who can not only act but also sing and dance like true professionals.
Kaz Lucas (as Sandy) and Elsaphan Njoka (as Danny) head up the line of luminaries which include Nick Ndeda, Nice Githinji, Ian Mbugua, Fanuel Mulwa and Eric Olalo among others.
But I have to say the actor whose voice commanded the stage whenever she spoke was that of Miss Lynch (Rachel Katimbo). The equivalent of an old English head mistress, she set the witty tone for the whole show and made me giggle from the word go.
‘HAPPILY EVER AFTER’
Miss Lynch is the one who sets up what will be the finale scene of the show. It’s when a popular weekly TV show called ‘American Bandstand’ will come to Rydell High to film the students dance. She wants them to be prepared for that event. But that’s where a crisis ensues between Danny and Sandy and nearly shatters their friendship. But be assured, Grease is all about ‘happily ever after’.
The show is set in America in more innocent times, the early years of rock ‘n’ roll in the fifties. The term ‘grease’ is short for ‘greaser’ meaning the working class white guys who actually roamed in gangs and had ‘tough guy’ airs, wore black leather jackets and slicked their hair back with plenty of grease.
In the musical, Danny leads his gang at Rydell High, but he meets a girl (Sandy) outside of school and they fall in love. By chance they both end up at the same school where ‘true love’ has little hope of enduring. Yet somehow they make it through.
In the meantime, Sandy’s disillusioned and Danny’s conflicted between his macho image and his unmanly affection for this sweet girl.
Their love story is what fuels a rather fluffy plot line about teen love and the power of peer pressure. In fact, the issues in Grease can be taken lightly, but problems like proving one’s ‘manly’ manhood and coping with teenage pregnancy are no joke.
Grease has amazing choreography designed by Alexus Ndegwa and a marvelous team of well-rehearsed NPAS student dancers. The leads, especially Elsaphan, are also star dancers. What’s plain in this production is that everyone is having a whole lot of fun!
And the voices in Grease are equally charmed. Guys like Fanuel Mulwa and Eric Olalo are splendid soloists. But the queen of voice is Kaz. She’s clearly had technical training because she sings like an angel and is perfectly cast. And the chemistry between her and Elsaphan is dynamite.
But then one can’t ignore Nick Ndeda whose ownership of Grease Lightning the Car is hilarious. But that old car coming on the National Theatre stage nearly spelt disaster for the whole production. Fortunately, Stuart managed to save the day, but this past weekend, there were several technical hitches that should be resolved by December 8 when the show reopens.
Nice Githinji was also exquisitely mean, nasty and quite a bully as Rizzo, but she played her part to the tee.
My initial reaction to calling Grease a Christmas musical was skepticism. But as it turns out, it’s an excellent production to lift one’s spirits and get you into a happy holiday mood.