KENYA musical ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’ was wowing audiences of New York theatre districts. The all-Kenya stage version of the popular television series was playing at a theatre near Times Square.
It was packing them in at the New Victory Theatre just off Broadway. The tunes are composed by singer/song writer Eric Wainaina who is also the show’s musical director and one of the lead actors.
“This is Kenya coming to Broadway, you know. It is a very big deal for us,” said Wainaina. “We walk down the street … ‘Harry Potter’ playing next door, it’s amazing. It is a dream coming true for me. I took a class in college in musical theatre like 15 years ago and I had never dreamt that I’d be here.”
Tinga Tinga Tales The Musical, 10 years in the making tells the story of a chameleon that needs cheering up and a giraffe in a sticky situation. But when it comes to the tales of Africa on Broadway, of course the ‘daddy’ of them all is ‘Lion King’. It’s been running on Broadway for more than 20 years and it Broadway’s biggest grossing and longest running show.
‘T’inga Tinga’ is an all-Kenya cast; some of the finest actors and musicians in East Africa who dedicated three months of their time to make this show happen in New York.
“They call it a show for four to seven year-olds here,” said co-producer Sheba Hirst “but I have seen lots of grand-parents and generally the young at heart and more spirited people having a great time. I think we tried to build a show that there will be something for the whole family to enjoy together. And it is one of those experiences that you don’t let go off as a child.”
Audiences the world over know ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’ as a TV cartoons and now in New York some of the young enthusiasts dubbed the musical version as: “It’s really funny and it’s really a very good show.”
It has also been described as “a gloriously interactive raucous experience” and when the curtains come down the actors mingle with fans some of are keen to keep the vibe [and singing] going. And most thought that the chameleon change of colour was the best part of the show.
John Terret, CGTN theatre critic summed up the Kenyan-happening in America: ‘Tinga Tinga Tales’ in an infectious sing-along and dance-along show greeting New York with a big ‘Jambo’ – that’s Swahili for ‘Hello’ — to which the New Yorkers reply: “Tinga-tast”.
‘Tinga Tinga The Musical’s debut in Broadway ran between October 13 and 20. The show, inspired by the book and television series of the same name by British producer Claudia Llyod, played at the New Victory Theatre in New York City, the only full-time Broadway theatre for children and families.
‘Tinga Tinga’ is an art movement from Tanzania that originated in the 1970s from the art style of the late Edward Saidi Tingatinga. Today, hundreds of artists produce work inspired by his vividly coloured paintings of animals, cultural narratives and elaborate designs against flat colour backgrounds.
It is an outstanding musical with quality music, dance and narration. Right from the start, the audience is immersed into the vibrant world of ‘Tinga Tinga’ with sound effects straight from the jungle with bird songs, animal calls and bold wildlife artwork against a vivid stage backdrop typical of ‘Tinga Tinga’ animal art.
The storyline revolves around the escapades of Monkey, and his friends in a land where the rainbow has special powers and where animals are perpetually singing and dancing. Monkey interacts with wise old Tortoise, Giraffe who always has a tummy ache, Lion the king, sassy Hippo, timid Chameleon and Elephant who has a small brain that rattles when his head shakes. As the animals get ready for the festival of colours, Giraffe and Chameleon get transformed in magical ways.
Animal characters are strong features of the African storytelling tradition, and the musical utilises the same narrative style. For example, why does the giraffe have a long neck or why does the chameleon change colours according to its surroundings?
Composer and music director Eric Wainaina plays the lead character of Monkey. A renowned singer and songwriter, Wainaina has a string of hit songs such as Daima Mkenya and Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo.
In the cast are prominent Kenyan thespians Atemi Oyungu and Elsaphan Njora, and film and television personality Eddy Kimani, who returns to the stage after a long hiatus to play Lion.
‘Tinga Tinga The Musical’ is a boisterous family-friendly event that even grown-ups can enjoy and there was hardly a dull moment during the one-and-a-half hour performance. The show is designed for audience participation typical of African oral. The children in the audience had a wonderful time singing along with the cast and imitating the dance moves.
The colourful costumes by fashion designer Ann McCreath of Kiko Romeo fashion house featured a bright red Monkey outfit, a polka dot bodysuit for Giraffe, a sky-blue military suit for the majestic Lion and the Rastafarian colours of Tortoise — who has dreadlocks and speaks with a slight Jamaican accent.
The lively Afro-fusion music score is played by an onstage music band and is inspired by Kenyan Benga music, with Congolese Lingala lyrics with elements of pop, gospel and jazz.
Coach Edu Ooro of Tusker Project Fame choreographed the dances. The musical is produced by Sheba Hirst, who was also behind the award-winning musical Mofaya, about slum life in Kenya. Mofaya was performed at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2009.
TINGA TINGA TALES – THE MUSICAL:
Tinga Rain Productions: Established by Sheba Hirst, Claudia Lloyd and Eric Wainaina
Eric Wainaina: Composer, plays Monkey
Eddy Kimani: Lion
Elsaphan Njora: Tortoise
Atemi Oyungu: Hippo
Alvan Gatitu: Chameleon
Nyokabi Macharia: Giraffe
Karimi Rimbui Wamai: Butterfly and Bird
Kendi Nkonge: Queen Bee
Edu Ooro: Choreography
Ann McCreath of KikoRomeo: Costumes design
Marvin Maveke – (Drums)
Tetu Shani – (Vocals and Percussion)
Benjamin Kabaseke – (Lead Guitar)
Victor Kimetto – (Keyboard/Band Leader)
Ted Mwangi – (Bass Guitar)
Chris Adwar: (2nd Keys/Acoustic Guitar/Percussion/Vocals)