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By KARI MUTU
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Tinga Tinga the Musical, a Kenyan production, will debut in Broadway, New York, on October 13 and run till October 20.

The show, inspired by the book and television series of the same name by British producer Claudia Llyod, will play 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.

I recently attended a performance of the musical at the Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi. The show is running until the end of September. This was my first time to see Tinga Tinga the Musical, which first featured in Nairobi in 2016.

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.

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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.

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