The year 2021 marked the 60th anniversary of NCP’s venture into the world of musicals.  In March 1961 NCP undertook an enormous challenge for an amateur group in deciding to stage Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King And I – a production requiring competent direction, strong vocalists, an orchestra, superb choreography, two sets of 18 children (performing on alternate nights), complicated sets, lavish costumes, and a lot of hard work and coordination.  In short, it was an undertaking with a lot of moving parts and NCP pulled it off with much aplomb.

Having entertained Nairobi audiences with a solid track record of straight plays, courtroom dramas and comedies since 1956, the decision to stage a musical in 1961 was a gamechanger for NCP and would set an important precedent for many decades to come, during which time a wonderful series of musicals would be staged by NCP at the Kenya National Theatre with visiting directors, vocalists and musical directors from the UK under the astute leadership of NCP Business Manager, Bryan Epsom.

The King And I played to full houses from 2nd to 18th March 1961.  The initial run up to 11th March had to be extended into a second week to cope with the unprecedented demand and there were queues for tickets outside the Kenya National Theatre.  One critic called the production ‘a sizeable feather in the cap of Nairobi City Players’ while another referred to it as ‘a major triumph for local theatre.’

Lavish praise was showered on the production by all the theatre critics. The local papers were full of rave reviews. Dulcie Atwell was faultless as Anna and Peter Pearce gave a very convincing performance as the King.  Robert Beaumont’s direction was ‘brilliant’ while Mary Epsom was praised for providing ‘the most impressive and striking array of costumes imaginable.’  Several other members of the cast were also complimented, including Bryan Epsom ‘who gave a good supporting performance as the king’s chief adviser.’

Dulcie Atwell and Peter Pearce would collaborate again many years later but that’s a story for another day.

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