Last night I went on a journey. Though I was slipping and sliding in the freezing rain and snow on my way to the theatre, inside the a.r.t. in Harvard Square, I was transported to Uganda; the music and choreography of Africa did a wonderful job warming my bones.
Witness Uganda, the recipient of the 2012 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater (among other honors) is the story of a Griffin, a young gay man, who travels to Uganda to do aid work after he becomes disillusioned with making it as an actor in New York City. Aid work in Uganda is indeed an unlikely subject for a musical, but it worked for Book of Mormon, and it works here- in a totally different way.
Once in Uganda, Griffin Matthews (who plays himself, and who co-wrote the play with Matt Gould) discovers that life in Uganda is complicated- that he is naive not only about life in a small village, but also about the charity he is working for. He takes matters into his own hands by befriending a group of street kids- teenage orphans– and making their education his own project–with the help of his best girl friend and aspiring singer Ryan- played by Emma Hunton. Along the way, they learn that giving money doesn’t always solve problems, that educating young people across the globe is often an overwhelming task, that the need for money is endless, and that the brick and mortar of a school does not necessarily mean an education for those who need it.
The fantastic choreography (by Darrell Grand Moultrie), the heart-lifting original music, the rich harmonies and warmth are the hallmarks of this new play. Both the plot and the characters could have used more depth (I wanted to get to know the characters a bit more) but nevertheless, Witness Uganda is joyful and worth going to– because frankly, it was quite entertaining. The music and beat of Witness Uganda will stay with me for days.