Page last updated at 19:21 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

Kenyans await Obama, The Musical

By Juliet Njeri
BBC News, Nairobi

Paul Kamau and Erik Makori
"John McCain" and "Barack Obama" in rehearsals

Just days before the US elections, it is unlikely that US presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain will be sharing a stage.

But in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, their characters will be singing and dancing together when Obama, The Musical opens on Sunday.

The hour-long play is hotly awaited in a country where Mr Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is a wildly popular figure.

Those involved in the production are doing little to hide their sympathies.

Mr Obama, who has never lived in Kenya and has only come to the country on visits, is a national hero. A local beer has been named after him.

'Chief villain'

Scriptwriter and director George Orido complies with Kenyan preferences in his casting of Mr McCain, his running-mate Sarah Palin, and President George Bush.

"McCain comes in as the villain, the chief villain. His supporting cast are George Bush and Sarah Palin who are standing in Obama's way," the director says.

Americans cannot be cheated, they know the right thing to do
George Orido
Scriptwriter and director

The 30-strong cast is made up of young actors and actresses - their average age is 21 - who are very excited to be a part of the production.

Eric Makori, who plays Mr Obama, says he feels privileged to have the role. He too supports the Democratic candidate.

But so does Paul Kamau, who plays Mr McCain.

And while he is content to play the Republican candidate, Mr Kamau says he would rather be cast as his rival.

"Obama is more fun to portray than McCain," he says. "I hope he will win."

Message for Kenyans

The play tells the story of Mr Obama's life.

It begins with his father's move to America to study and his meeting with Barack Obama's mother, before covering the events of the young Obama's life.

Mr Orido says he came up with the idea of the play three years ago, as Mr Obama rose to prominence.

"Music is the universal language and Obama is a universal figure," he said.

Flier for Obama, the Musical
The director said he has not ruled out a sequel to the play

"If you want to tell his story, you have to tell it in a universal language so that everyone can understand."

A variety of musical genres are used - traditional and contemporary Kenyan music, as well as some country songs.

The lyrics of some of the songs have been changed to suit the story line.

The play ends with an enactment of Mr Obama's acceptance of the Democratic nomination, shying away from predictions about who will emerge victorious after the 4 November elections.

But Mr Orido is not quite so reserved about Mr Obama's prospects.

"He's going to win, why not?" he says. "Americans cannot be cheated, they know the right thing to do."

He says he wants everyone who watches his play to understand Mr Obama's story and learn about the virtues of hard work, selflessness, democracy and public service.

The message is especially important for Kenyans, he stresses.

In January, Kenya was rocked by post-election violence that left more than 1,500 people dead and 300,000 homeless.

"We were fighting each other because some of us thought certain people from certain communities could not be leaders... [Obama's story] is a big lesson for us," Mr Orido says.

The play will run until 5 November, and Mr Orido does not rule out a sequel.

He says there have already been invitations to perform in the UK and South Africa.

"This is just the beginning," he says.

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