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"Obama: The Musical"

In song and dance, Kenyans see a savior capable of uplift – and visas – in the new US president.

By Rob CrillyCorrespondent / January 20, 2009

Revival: "Obama: The Musical," started in Nairobi as a one-man show after the young US senator spoke at the 2004 Democratic convention; it morphed into a full cast production during the 2008 election season.




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Barack Obama has gone out of his way to begin playing down expectations and distancing himself from the notion that he is some sort of chosen one, put on Earth to deliver a brighter future for all.
Only no one has told his fans in Kenya.

As the cast of “Obama: The Musical” stomp, sing, and salsa their way through their fast-moving stage production at the Kenya National Theatre one thing becomes clear: To Kenya and the rest of Africa the 44th president of the United States is nothing short of a savior.

The sound system hums, the actors stumble over their words, and an overenthusiastic band threatens to drown out the lines altogether. Yet nothing can quite hide the messianic message.

“Unto me, a man from Kenya,” says Danson Mateya, playing Mr. Obama’s father, “and a woman from Kansas a boy shall be born and his name will be... ”

Barack Obama” comes the slightly tardy response from the audience, crammed into narrow seats that look as if they have been salvaged from a 1960s fleapit.

On stage, the action veers from a Kenyan village to Hawaiian basketball courts and on to the 2004 Democratic convention, where Obama first sprang to prominence.

It is an 80-minute, $7-per-ticket tale of the American Dream, of African poverty, and of hope overcoming adversity – all told through pulsating rhythms and shuffling feet.

The show sold out during the November election season and was hastily revived on the eve of this week’s inauguration to take advantage of the excitement on the streets here. (Local TV was totally devoted to the inauguration yesterday, and big screens were set up in town and village squares to broadcast the inauguration.)

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From village to White House in one generation is a tantalizing story in a country where millions live on less than a dollar a day.

Director George Orido, a former soap opera star who devised a one-man show to coincide with Obama’s 2006 visit to Kenya updated it to include caricatures of villains: a winking Sarah Palin and John McCain, portrayed so goofily that he can barely use a mobile phone.

“The main message for my show is that anything is possible if you believe and work hard at it,” he says. “That’s important, because I come from a part of the world which has been written off by the rest of the planet. We can’t even feed ourselves.

“Obama’s story is one of turning things around, mobilizing people and making change.”

Kenya is a country desperately in need of a leader prepared to deliver his people to safety.

It is barely a year since tribal fissures were exposed in weeks of political violence. More than 1,000 people died as disputed elections brought rioters to the streets and slums burned.

Now hunger is stalking a tinder-dry land.

Last week the government declared a national emergency as food stocks dwindled to dangerous levels, putting 10 million people at risk.