Theater Review: GODDESS (World Premiere Musical at Berkeley Rep)

Post image for Theater Review: GODDESS (World Premiere Musical at Berkeley Rep)

by Chuck Louden on September 2, 2022

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Goddess, the exciting new musical at Berkeley Rep with its sights set for Broadway, re-imagines the African myth of Marimba: the goddess of music. In order to experience real love, the goddess has come down from the heavens as Nadira (Amber Iman, who raises the roof with every note) to live in the world of mortals so she can experience real love while working as a chanteuse at Club Moto Moto, an Afro-Jazz Club in Mombasa, Kenya.

The club has its regulars and a colorful cast of characters. The bartender/manager Rashida (Monoymous Abena providing comic relief) runs a tight ship while fending off the advances of Ahmed (Rodrick Covington) Moto Moto’s emcee. 

Omari (Philip Johnson Richardson) comes home from schooling in America. His parents Hassan (Kingsley Leggs) and Siti (Kecia Lewis) and his betrothed Cheche (Destinee Rea) are all invested in having Omari carry on the family’s political legacy and running for mayor of Mombasa. But when Omari returns to the club and reconnects with his friends, he becomes immediately entranced by Nadira, with her beauty, mystique and alluring voice.

This is the main conflict of the story, which doesn’t always inspire the dialogue and score, both of which can veer towards conventional (book by Jocelyn Bioh (School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play) and music and lyrics by Michael Thurber). Still, the musical numbers, backed by a terrific jazz band, are infectiously choreographed by Darrell Grand Moultrie. Directed and conceived by Saheem Ali, the ensemble gushes talent with exuberant energy and jubilant singing (Richardson himself plays a mean saxophone). The storytellers — a grio chorus played by Awa Sal Seeka, Teshomech and Melisse Clark heighten the soulfulness a notch higher with haunting harmonies.  Arnulfo Maldonado’s detailed and expressive sets and Dede Ayite’s dazzling, multi-print, colorful costumes are a joy to behold.

The underlying theme here is that Music is God, Music is Life-force. This makes for some exciting visuals and soulful beats, but the story could use some tweaking, as it should really be about love and its ability to make one a giver. When Nadira falls for Omari’s earnestness, and his passion for life, we should be completely invested in their outcome as lovers, not just the glorious beat. But I’m a sucker for that beat, and thus recommend you have a rendezvous with Goddess.

photos by Kevin Berne and Alessandra Mello/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Berkeley Rep
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
2025 Addison Street @ Shattuck
ends on September 25, 2022 EXTENDED to October 1, 2022
for tickets, call 510.647.2949 or visit Berkeley Rep

Leave a Comment