In the 20 years that Berkeley Rep has been developing new plays and musicals, it has sent 13 to Broadway, which have picked up six Tony Awards. And local audiences have earned “I saw it here first” bragging rights.
Berkeley Rep is now launching another world premiere musical with the potential to become a Broadway hit. “Goddess,” with a cast of 18 dynamic performers, electrifying choreography and music, and a bit of stage magic, opened for previews this week.
“Goddess” is currently playing at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre. Visit Berkeley Rep for more information and tickets.
Created by the award-winning team of Saheem Ali, Michael Thurber, and Jocelyn Bioh, “Goddess” is based on the myth of Marimba, an African goddess of music who created beautiful songs from heartache.
Ali first encountered the myth as a teen in Kenya, where he was born and raised. Expanding on the story, the innovative creative team dreamt up whole characters, scenes, music and songs from scratch. The result is a two-hour exhilarating blend of ancient magic and contemporary story.
In the musical, Marimba takes on the form of a human named Nadira, who’s searching for love. She arrives at a steamy jazz club in Mombasa, Kenya, and finds a musical connection with Omari — the next in line to become mayor but who really wants to pursue his passion for music.
“It’s a story about finding yourself, finding your passion,” said Ali, “leaning into your quest for love — whatever that is, love for a person, love for an art form.”
In the world of musical theater, many new shows are based on real people or a musician’s catalog. Said Thurber, “We wanted to make a truly original story with truly original characters that holds together in a timeless way.”
“Goddess” also features an eclectic score that blends musical influences from the U.S. and Kenya. Bioh said that in addition to traditional musical theater and jazz, “it’s got Afrobeat, it’s got R&B, it’s got a sprinkling of pop in there.”
The choreography, created by Darrell Grand Moultrie, also draws multiple styles, including hip hop, modern dance, African dance, street dance and, he said, “maybe a little bit of voguing.” Get a sneak peek in this video featuring a number from the show in rehearsal.
After working on “Goddess” for more than 10 years in workshops from Minneapolis to Manhattan, the creative team is thrilled to see the show finally realized at Berkeley Rep in the heart of the city’s downtown Arts District. Artistic Director Johanna Pfaelzer believes, “that years from now, our audiences will be proud to say they saw this here first.”