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MY HEART IS THE DRUM gets staged premiere at Kent State University


Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

One of the major purposes of collegiate musical theater programs, besides teaching acting, singing and dancing skills, is to expand student knowledge of not only traditional, but new scripts.  Kent State is offering its students such an opportunity by presenting MY HEART IS THE DRUM.

Though the Jennie Redling (book), Phillip Palmer (music and original concept) and Stacey Luftig (lyrics) musical has been workshopped three times in the last couple of years, this is the first completely staged version.

The time is 2000.  Dealing with such subjects as the lack of educational opportunities for women, arranged marriages, AIDS, superstition, and Ghana gender traditions, the script aims to illustrate the country’s third world mentality regarding health issues and male and female societal roles.

Efua Kuti, an intelligent young lady who lives in Kafrona in rural Ghana, is encouraged by her teacher to attend university.  Efua’s father, who needs her to pick and sort cotton so the family can eke out a living, opposes her educational advancement.

When Efua’s cousin, Balinda, is given in an arranged marriage to a “wealthy” jewelry merchant in Accra, the country’s capital, where a university is located, Efua accompanies her.  The duo confronts the issue of sexual slavery when Caesar Nabuto, the merchant, turns out to be a man who sells his product by supplying women to his wealthy patrons.  Both Efua and Balinda are trapped into working for Caesar.  Efua fights off the advances of the man to whom she is given. Balinda is not as fortunate.Edward, who is in love with Efua, and who has been betrothed to her in an arranged marriage forced upon her by her father in an attempt to control her and keep her in Kafrona, follows the girls to Accra and frees Efua and Balinda.

Brought back to Kafrona, Efua is determined to get her education, and Balinda, who has acquired AIDS, dies and follows her Nana into the spirit world of her ancestors.

The script is not well developed.  It bridges segments with a lack of clarity.  The music, though often poignant, generally lacks true African cadence and vividness.  The words to the songs are often trite.  This lack of material fidelity makes it difficult for the student cast, under the direction of Terri Kent, to create real characterizations.

Samara Costa displays a nice voice and her Efua is as believable as possible with the lines she is given.  Alex Echols is also on point as Balinda, but, as with Costa, is limited in her character development by unreal sounding conversational language and a lack of plot fidelity.  David Holland has a nice voice and is delightful as the fearful Edward.  His “What’s Possible” is the comedy highlight of the production.

Colleen Longshaw has a fine voice and creates a nice characterization as Nana, the guiding spirit of the Kuti family.   Her “Your Heart is the Drum” is poignant.

Kirk Lydell displays strong dancing abilities.

Musical Director Jonathan Swoboda wisely has his orchestra underscore rather than overshadow the performers. MaryAnn Black’s choreography tries to add Afro beat dancing but is somewhat limited due to the musical score. Benjamin Williams has created a clever scenic design centering on ever-moving curved set pieces with African motifs.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  Kent State’s Musical Theatre Program should be commended for exposing their students to a new theatrical experience in MY HEART IS THE DRUM.  Though the material is generally obvious and often trite, the message of third world naivety, when it comes to curing diseases such as AIDS, the plight of women in a patriarchal society, and the dependence on tradition and superstition, comes through.

MY HEART IS A DRUM runs from February 20-March 1, 2015 at Kent State University.

Kent State’s Porthouse Theatre, located on the grounds of the Blossom Center, will present A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, June 11-27, VIOLET, July 9-25, and HAIRSPRAY, July 30-August 16.   Single tickets go on sale May 26 at 330—672-3884.  For more information go to