Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

The Evolution of Musical Theatre in Nigeria: A Case Study of Bolanle Austen-Peters' Musicals

Date of Award

2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Michael Ellison (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Timothy Pogacar (Other)

Third Advisor

Jonathan Chambers (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Heidi Nees (Committee Member)

Abstract

Bud Coleman and Judith A. Sebesta in Women in American Musicals: Essays on Composers…. (2008) and Michelle Parke in Queer in the Choir: Essays on Gender and Sexuality in Glee (2014), all contend that “Musical theatre is arguably the most popular form of theatre in the United States” (Coleman and Sebesta, 6). Since the Nigerian tour of the Broadway musical Fela! in 2011, the form has generated a renewed excitement in that country’s theatre culture, which was on the verge of extinction. A central contributor to this interest in musical theatre in Nigeria is producer Bolanle Austen-Peters (a.k.a., BAP). Inspired by Fela!, Austen-Peters has produced five Broadway-style musical theatre performances in the last decade, staged in Nigeria and abroad. In this study, I analyze three key works from Austen-Peters’s still-in-process career while also providing documentation for this new art form to ensure its preservation and inspire prospects of future research. By using Ruth Little’s, Cathy Turner’s, and Synne Behrndt’s definitions of dramaturgy, I critically evaluate and attend to how contemporary musical theatre in Nigeria functions. In addition, employing Marvin Carlson’s concept of theatrical interculturalism, I endeavor to understand how traditional Nigerian performance elements are making their way into this reimagined art form. Following the introduction which lays out the topic and methodologies, chapter two is a critical exploration of Austen-Peters’s first musical script, Saro, The Musical (2013). Specifically, I explore how she is modifying and modernizing traditional Nigerian performance practices to create a musical theatre production unique to Nigeria. My focus in chapter three is an analysis of a video recording of Austen-Peters’s second work, Wakaa, The Musical (2015), which debuted in Nigeria before transferring to London in 2016 for a limited run. Building on the work done in chapter two, in this chapter I investigate how this performance combines elements from both Nigerian and Western cultures. Chapter four provides a dramaturgical analysis of Austen-Peters’s third musical, Fela and the Kalakuta Queens (2017). In this final chapter, I examine the historical, cultural, and social contexts at the time when the script was written and seek to understand the continued influence of Fela and his music even after his death. As she is the most prolific producer of musical theatre in Nigeria, analyzing Austen-Peters’s key works not only sheds light on the career of an important theatre artist whose work has not yet been evaluated in academic circles, but also provides a roadmap for defining the contours of musical theatre in Nigeria, which will be of use to future scholars.

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