Everything about Lwanda Rockman, the new Chatterbox Collective production scripted and directed by JJ Jumbi, is a grand spectacle.
From the posters designed by Osborne Macharia to the costuming and make-up that blends ancient legend with post-modern sci-fi to the Afro-jazz band and chorus, the choreography and electrically-charged dancers to the dazzling cast, all are bold and keen to grab your attention, which they do.
From the moment the dancers jump out on stage and the band begins its funky jazz sound, you know you are in for something special. But don’t expect this Lwanda to follow the traditional tale to a “T”. It’s “flawed” if you expect the same old Luo story to be told.
JJ injects so much modernity into his musical that one needs to be attuned to shows like American Idol, The Bachelor and even The Voice, all Western imports, but competitions that rhyme with the kind of tale this Rockman relates.
For this Lwanda (Xavier Ywaya) is still a super-star, still a military master who’s revered by all, but who still has dangerous enemies out to finish him off with the most potent of all weapons, a woman’s charm and feigned love. That’s the way the original story begins, but then our Lwanda is single and searching for someone to love.
The master wedding planner Lady Medusa (Lucy Wache) is enlisted to fix all that. She sets up the competition of adoring women who’ll fight tooth and nail to get their claws into the king of might. But only three finalists have a shot. They are Athola (Akinyi Oluoch), Atipa (Auudi Rowa) and Aliya (Doanna Owano). Yet however beautiful and gifted they are, none of them excites either Medusa or Lwanda.
But a mysterious “fourth contestant” Chichi (Nyawira Alison) pops up out of nowhere with so much charm, sensuality, beauty and immediacy that she quickly captures Lwanda’s heart. The man’s been conquered in no time flat.
Little does he know that Chichi’s a spy for the other side or that her first love is for Konte (Justin Mirichii). Her motive for bringing Lwanda down is revenge for his slaughter of her father.
In this conflict, the challenge is not on the battle field but in hearts and minds of the women, the first one being Chichi who falls for Lwanda and is clearly torn between Konte and him. It’s a classic love triangle, but to be deemed a traitor not just to her lover but to the people she’s promised to finish him for, is the dilemma Chichi must resolve.
But the other “battle” Lwanda faces comes from the women rejected in the contest. They organise an angry protest against him and the foreigner who not only stole “their man”. She transformed him into a “traitor” by making him choose her over them.
So we see the power balance shift to the side of the women. The three get him demoted and thoroughly demoralised. It’s for Chichi to console him, but the timing is bad. That’s right after she’s met secretly with Konte and promised to be true to their cause.We don’t actually see Lwanda tell Chichi the secret to his invincibility, but the inevitable happens nonetheless.
We don’t want to be a spoiler but most people know the story of Lwanda (just like Samson with Delilah in the Bible) and the woman bringing his downfall.
My one qualm with ‘Lwanda Rockman’ is with the ending which I pray the director might consider fixing. It’s the last scene and there are three centres of attention on a darkened stage. We need the dark so that a spotlight can create the shadow required for Konte to perform the dire deed. But the spotlight wasn’t there, or if it was, it wasn’t bright enough to easily expose Lwanda’s silhouette.
It may sound like a fussy point but it matters. Also, the speed of the ending was so fast that it lost an element of drama, namely the pathos we should have felt when we heard Chichi wailing for her lost love. I could not see her from my vantage point and that might not matter, but since she essentially has the last word with her tears, her prominent presence might make the ending a bit more poignant and painfully tragic.