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Obama: The Musical


You've seen Obama, the candidate. You've seen Obama, the president-elect. And now, "Obama: The Musical." A playhouse in Mr. Obama's ancestral homeland, Kenya, is drawing crowds to see a partisan production. Nick Wadhams reports.

Unidentified Man: No, we still want the celebration of Obama beginning(ph). Let's go.

NICK WADHAMS: It's rehearsal time at the Kenyan National Theatre, where director George Orido is making last-minute changes to "Obama: The Musical." With Barack Obama's election victory still fresh, Orido's tribute to the candidate needs a new ending: Barack Obama persuading his supporters to vote for him.

(Soundbite of "Obama: The Musical" rehearsal)

Unidentified Actors: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

WADHAMS: "Obama: The Musical" is only the latest manifestation of the Obama mania in Kenya. People danced in the streets after a man they consider their son and brother won the election. With a cast of about 20, the musical portrays Obama's life in a tidy one hour. There's his youth in Hawaii, his marriage to Michelle Obama, even a mention of his fight against asbestos in Chicago public housing.

Orido is a playwright and former star of the Kenyan soap opera, "Broken Vows." He says his play caps an obsession that dates back to a master's thesis three years ago in which he predicted an Obama win. Sporting an Obama '08 button on his lapel, he says he wanted to tell the arc of Obama's story with all its influences, both American and African.

Mr. GEORGE ORIDO (Playwright; Director, "Obama: The Musical"): He's a hero, while the villains are McCain, and that is supported by George Bush and Sarah Palin. But one thing about the ingredients, it's a blend of African narrative approaches to telling stories. There's this music, there's dance and song that makes it very easy to listen to and captivating.

WADHAMS: The Obama victory has sparked idealism and hope in this country. It has lifted spirits among Kenyans who despaired after the violent aftershocks of their own presidential vote nearly a year ago. Eric Makori plays Obama in the musical. He's as tall as Obama and has the same haircut but otherwise, the 23-year-old bears little resemblance to the 47-year-old president-elect. But he says he hopes Obama will inspire Kenyan politicians to do better.

Mr. ERIC MAKORI (Actor, "Obama: The Musical"): I feel privileged. It's a big honor to play Obama. He's my role model. We said he was going to win. He has won. Now he's going to succeed in changing the world. And I would like to change the world just like him because I know I care to.

WADHAMS: The musical is decidedly low budget, with heavy feedback over the sound system and not much in the way of costumes. There are a couple hundred people in the crowd, including Kenyans who have managed to get a hold of "I voted" stickers and Obama T-shirts.

(Soundbite of "Obama: The Musical" performance)

Unidentified Actor: Now living with his grandma and grandpa...

WADHAMS: Tonight, the play goes well, apart from a few missed cues and flubbed lines. When the musical winds down, the actors playing Sarah Palin and John McCain join Obama in a traditional African dance - a sign, Orido says, that Obama's victory will unite even the most bitter foes.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

WADHAMS: The show was performed 12 times before closing its run today. But Orido says he already has people telling him to bring it to South Africa and the United Kingdom. Maybe some day, he says, Obama himself will see the musical in the United States. For NPR News, this is Nick Wadhams in Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nick Wadhams