Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS), the musical that was staged at Kenya National Theatre during the Easter weekend this year, has been revived for five shows running from September 14 to 17. The larger than life performance was a choreography of lighting effects, sound, dance and acting. It was a different experience from any professional production in the country before it.
There will be a change in the cast this time, as more than half of them will be new. The most notable change will, however, be in the main cast. Dan Aceda played ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ in the previous one, and this part will be played by Martin Githinji this time.
Nice Githinji takes over the role of ‘Mary Magdalene’ from Miriam Nyokabi. The actors had pulled out due to prior commitments. Mkamzee Mwatela still plays the eccentric ‘Herod,’ but with a more physically challenging performance, having already given birth to a wonderful baby she was expecting last time around.
Stuart Nash, the director of the musical, and Andrew Wambua, the voice coach, sat down with this writer to talk about the anticipated staging.
The rehearsals are going much smoother compared to the previous preparations around the same time before the show’s staging last time. How much of this is due to this being the second attempt and how much is it due to changes in the main cast?
Nash: I think that now people have experienced that feeling of being on stage in a big production, they can’t wait to do it again. Also having about 50 percent new cast has helped breath a new life into the show.
Besides the two main actors, what other changes have you made to the production, maybe from lessons learned from the last staging of JCS?
Nash: Having a second chance to stage JCS has given us a chance to really iron out any slight kinks we didn’t have time to sort out the first time. But we are also adding a really nice technical element to part of the show which will be amazing, though I can’t divulge any more information than that for now. You’ll have to come to see the show.
What pushed you to do this new staging of JCS?
Nash: We received such great reviews and positive feedback from the first time we were asked by KNT to revive it and make it bigger and better; which I think we have done.
How does this being the second attempt and changes in the main cast improve the play?
Andrew: We have a new intake every four months enrolling for our courses at Nairobi Performing Arts Studio. So half the cast had already done it before and that made it easier. Martin Githinji and Nice Githinji (no relation) were an injection of freshness. They actually also sing. Nice is a well-known karaoke host in various clubs in Nairobi, and Martin has been in various musicals before, so we cast them knowing they could hack the roles. It’s an interesting twist to what they are known for because not many people know that they are prolific singers as well as actors.
Besides the two main actors what other changes have you made to the production, maybe from lessons learned from the last staging of JCS?
Andrew: There are various twists and turns. For instance, Mkamzee is not pregnant any more so we’ve vamped the dances in her role as Herod. The “dream girls” are all new in the song Superstar with vamped up dances and other parts of the musical have been re-blocked (blocking is the positioning and movements that actors do on stage or in a film) to make them spicier.
We know Nice Githinji and Martin Githinji to be good actors, but how was it working with these two to get them vocally prepared?
Andrew: They are great singers so not too much work apart from the usual individual rehearsals we always schedule with the principal cast members. The trick always lies in the casting which we seem to have a knack for.