Rokitz Entertainment, Nue Levo & FKP Scorpio
May 13 – 17 2014
Reviewed by Guy Frawley
“Rich in rhythm and robust in song, Mother Africa’s acrobats, musicians and dancers light up the stage in a powerful performance of stunning African artistry.” TheaterMania.com
“This jubilant 90-minute spectacle delivers one thrill after another.” Time Out, New York
“A swirl of colour and movement that keeps its audience clapping and cheering throughout…Mother Africa is a vibrant high-energy production…” The Gold Coast Bulletin
With “Fresh from a sold out season on Broadway” splashed across the show poster and breathless media quotes comparing Mother Africa to “Cirque Du Soleil with African roots”, “the Lion King on steroids!” and “a sunshine safari for the mind!” I must admit I was very much looking forward to seeing this show. The program quotes an enthused Dolly Parton, “this show took my breath away, awesome”, yet filing out of the QPAC Playhouse on Tuesday night my only cause for breathlessness was a large sigh of disappointment.
Based on the promotional videos and photos available and after reading several other reviews this is a show that has great potential and would appear to have been well executed elsewhere, but not here (or at least not yet). Whilst the individual performances were generally on point the group numbers played like a dress rehearsal with cast members often out of sync or obviously looking around the stage to see what they should be doing now. The finale, a flag waving (attempted) extravaganza of pan-African unity and unique cultural expression especially suffered from this. At one point one of the cast members seemed more distracted by examining his finger nails than waving the flag he limply held aloft and then wandered around stage momentarily before finding his place. The disjointed lighting track throughout the show and sloppy sound production further detracted from the overall performance and the bizarre decision to constantly turn the house lights on and off began to wear thin halfway through the second act.
Mother Africa brings together performers from across Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Benin, Zimbabwe and Guinea and had such potential to offer a unique experience built around the music, dance, costume and cultural traditions of the performers. From the very beginning however the stage was set, quite literally, to dash my hopes. Animal print panels framed the side of the stage and just in case anyone had forgotten they were here to see a show from Africa, cardboard animal cut-outs were propped up behind the platforms used by the band. In an ill-advised creative decision these cut-outs included the (indigenous to Southern Asia and not appearing naturally anywhere in Africa) tiger. The live band and singers shined with the traditional numbers but more often than not were weighed down by a track list of ‘African’ songs (The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Soul Makosa, Waka Waka This Time For Africa).
The performers were able to shine when doing their individual numbers and these were the moments when Mother Africa appeared polished and ready. Lazarus Mwangi Gitu ruled the stage and had the audience shrieking in shock and awe with his mind blowing (spine cracking?) contortionist routine. The unicycle skills of Baraka Juma Ferouz impressed all and had the audience laughing as often as gasping. And the incredible Icarian duo of Tamrat Yemane Ayalew and Tomas Teka Alemu could probably give some tips to NASA on the human body and its ability to withstand centrifugal force.
No amount of backflips or tumbling though can help Mother Africa break away from the fact that at best it appeared far from audience ready and at worst played like a second rate African-esque themed show night on a P&O Cruise. With a tour that will take the show across 65 different locations between now and August one can only hope this will give them a chance to apply the requisite polish to their performance. Yet at $49-99 a ticket this hardly feels like the right time to be getting the show audience worthy. Africa is overflowing with incredible examples of original dance, theatre and music; it’s a real shame Mother Africa didn’t really showcase any of it.