For three weeks, the Nigerian musical, Kakadu took Johannesburg by storm, with members appearing on South African television breakfast shows to announce their show which was a debut in South Africa’s largest theatre space, Nelson Mandela Stage.
As interesting as the travelling theatre sounds, it has its own challenges. Still, it was heart-warming to see all the 40-man cast return to Lagos safely.
Right now, the Kakadu team is recording the reworked soundtracks to the musical in a Lekki studio, where this reporter found them. One of the main challenges for the cast members in Johannesburg was acclimatisation. The winter bit so hard, a few of them were a little bit under the weather. But with a musical director like Ben Ogbeiwi, their vocal chords became their most precious possession which they protected through out their stay with warm clothings and less talk.
Back in Nigeria, they seemed at ease to talk about their rare experience in a musical theatre, co-sponsored by MTN Foundation, that was a sold out from the opening to the closing show. Many of the cast broke down in tears on their last night on stage. Those tears were a mixture of joy of returning to their loved ones at home and sorrow at departing new South African friends.
For the artistic director, Kanayo Omo, it was unbelievable that not eating Nigerian dish for the first few days could be a problem for many of his cast. Having lived most of his life in US and UK, he couldnâ€™t understand the link between â€œSemolina and Sopranoâ€ or â€œAfang and Altoâ€.
With each cast member, it was a unique adventure. For Bridget Okonkwo who played the lead female role of Bisi in the musical, the trip was her first international travel. This graduate of English Language from Obafemi Awolowo University recalled how she almost missed the opportunity of joining Kakadu in January.
â€œI didnâ€™t want to go for it because when I saw the criteria, I was intimidated,â€ she said. â€œIt required six months of trainings and rehearsals. But then, I passed the audition and had to defer my mandatory service.
â€œFor me, Kakadu has taught me to appreciate my craft and be more disciplined as an actor. I had to do a lot of reading and research to perfect my role.â€
Next came Olabanji Oluwatosun Henry who played Chief Tunde (Baba Bisi). He recalled how he conquered his fear of not living up to billing having contested in a music reality show in South Africa the previous year without making the top ten. At the sight of a full auditorium, he said a personal prayer after the group prayer. Asides prayers, he took practical steps to interpret his role which involved discarding his late 20s character to assume that of a middle-aged man.
â€œI was staying around a vulcaniser for a week to listen and mimic him. After every rehearsal, I would go sit with him for 30minutes but of course he didnâ€™t know my intention. The way they spoke English back then is a little different from ours,â€ he observed. If there was anything he benefited from the Joâ€™burg experience, it was renewed self-confidence.
Ralph Okoro, who played Emeka, had his personal concerns with interpreting his role. Before him were two strong actors who had other commitments and couldnâ€™t return to Kakadu. The tendency to compare him with his predecessors was huge so he had to rise above that to make his mark which he did literally by putting parting to his Afro hair that took six months to groom to get that post-colonial look. Figuratively, he made his mark with his soft and sweet vocals which transported his hybrid emotions in the drama. He recalled the last night of performance with smiles.
â€œThe last night was great because the EP, Uche Nwokedi spoke to us before the show. He said we had already performed to the audience but that night, we should go on stage and just enjoy ourselves.â€ The result was a smash hit. Actors who sung dialogue that were otherwise spoken, eliciting more laughter from the audience.
Okoro is working on his two singles at the moment.
For Peter Jacobs, â€œOsahonâ€ role came to him as a reward for his perseverance. Based in Niger state, he had attempted several Project Fame auditions in Lagos so much that his tenacity caught Ben Ogbeiwi’s attention. When Kakadu called for audition, the musical director invited Osahon to join and he did. He is currently working on his first single, to be released on his birthday.
Jacobsâ€™ story is similar to Theodora’s, who played Enoh in Kakadu. She had been a part of the Playhouse Initiative since 2014 but her dream of a successful music career has been rekindled with her stirring delivery of the Nigerian classic, â€œIje Enuâ€ at the war scene in the musical. She has since released a single on domestic violence titled, â€œGini Mereâ€, a mid-tempo high-life tune.
Like Onome Augustine, most of the cast yielded to the director’s warning: â€œWhatever you do, do not stray to Hillbrow. Do not walk alone.â€ Though the group later visited Hillbrow Theatre and organised a workshop in one of the auditoriums, the community was out-of-bounds for them.
It was also gathered that most of the cast of Kakadu were paid well enough to book studio sessions and record their individual songs to launch their career in music. That primarily is the reason behind Playhouse Initiative which was established to groom creative talents and offer them job opportunities which contributes greatly to Nigeriaâ€™s creative economy.