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By Damiete Braide
After staging a successful outing in Lagos, award-winning total theatre performance, and undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s ‘box office success stories’, Kakadu The Musical equally had a sterling performance with South African audience to a captivating theatrical performance that has continued to resonate with palpable nostalgia, even weeks after it ended amidst pomp and ceremony.
The show was part of events to mark the Africa Day Celebrations. It featured a “combination of amazing dance, music and drama with a strong plot of captivating story line that enthralled the audience, especially as they followed through on the enactment of landmark events that happened in Nigeria”.
Organisers of the show were the MTN Foundation as part of its contribution to the entertainment industry in advancing theatre and performing arts in Nigeria, the Nigerian Export Promotion Commission, Custodian Insurance and Zenith Bank Plc.
Based on several pivotal events that happened in Nigeria between 1965 and 1974, the watershed years immediately following independence from British colonial rule, leading to the Biafran War and the aftermath of that war, Kakadu the Musical, written and produced, surprisingly by one of the leading lawyers in Nigeria, Uche Nwokedi, SAN, is the journey of four friends through a time of the infinite possibilities. It is has become the benchmark for musical theatre in Nigeria, a time to dream and to hope.
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 genre 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 sixties costumes, extravagant hairstyles and the assimilation of western attitudes gives Kakadu the Musical a stylish and exuberant sense of time and place.
The four friends echo the ethnic diversity of the newly independent country. At the centre of it all is Kakadu’s charismatic manager, Lord Luggard, 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. It 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.
Kakadu the Musical is an exciting blend of the western music of the 60’s that influenced musical expressions in the 1960s Africa, with highlife, Afrobeat, contemporary and traditional Nigerian folk music, to produce the most wonderfully eclectic musical ever.
Having followed Kakadu from its first showing in May 2013, for the theatre savvy audience of South Africa, it was a show that will resonate with palpable nostalgia, given its rich, colourful theatrical and historical resonance.
“The most startling thing about Kakadu the Musical is its music. It is 100% Nigerian home grown show, with close to 30 Nigerian performers, and one Motswana. It tells a Nigerian story written, and produced by Nigerians; yet the music is mostly Western. To be precise, 1960s and ‘70s American pop and soul. Think of songs such as My Boy Lollipop, Let’s Twist Again and Many Rivers to Cross, played by top-notch musicians on keyboard, drums, flugelhorn, sax, guitar and talking drum.
“Kakadu was first performed in Lagos in 2013 and a year later at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and is the first Nigerian musical to be staged in South Africa. Hopefully, it’s not the last. It gives insight into life in another country on our continent while entertaining, and informs without preaching. What better way to share a history of sorrows, highs and hopes than through the emotional connection of a theatrical performance.”
Katlego Mereko, in a review of the play in the Jo’Burg Post notes: “I have watched and written on quite a few theatre plays now, and if all of them were of good quality, then Kakadu punches way above that benchmark. From the set to the cast, the musical beautifully and melodically manages to capture the vicissitudes of life in Nigeria around those times. The unforeseen military coup, I think emerges brilliantly in the play as it demonstrated the nature in which it came unexpectedly, expect perhaps for the late Chinua Achebe who wrote a prophetic novel in the form of his Man of the People. I think, most importantly, the singing was pitch perfect!