As any RPCV I enjoy meeting and getting to know the peolple of other lands.  One could even say it is a passion for me since I have lived, worked, loved, played, danced and sang with the peoples of 17 foreign lands, the last being those of the small country of Luxembourg. 

Perhaps my most memorable experience came in Namibia, one of Africa’s newest countries with a small population spread over a vast land.  My wife was posted to our embassy in the country’s capital Windhoek right after the country gained its independence in 1990.  One late afternoon when I arrived back home from a business trip to Johannesburg in neighboring South Africa my wife told me, “See the music director at the German high school.”  She expained that one of her employees, Wilfred, had dropped out of a musical production the school’s music director, Wolfgang, was planning to produce.

I showed up at the school two days later where I entered the music room to find a lone man at the piano.  He looked up and asked, “Herr Cecchini?”

I replied, “Yes.”

“Do you know the music?”

Doesn’t everyone?”

“Not here.  Sing these lines.”

I sang the lines and Wolfgang said, “Rehearsal is Saturday.”

That was it, I was cast as the high priest Caiaphas in “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

I was struck by Wolfgang’s audacity, he was going to stage this large musical in a town with just over 100,000 souls at the bottom end of Africa.  I was even more impressed when he assembled an orchestra, rock band, chorus, corps de ballet and six lead singers for the task.

Andrew Lloyd Weber sold the rights to perform the work to Wolfgang on condition that it be done by a multiracial cast.  The condition was not necessary since it would have been impossible to do otherwise.  The chorus and orchestra were mainly Wolfgang’s students, but the corps de ballet was composed of Afrikaaners, what were known as ”coloreds,” and blacks. The lead singers were the most diverse group with one colored Namibian, two black Namibians, one Afrikaaner, one German and one American, me. 

I arrived at my first rehersal to find a lovely lady singing the role of Mary Magdalene.  What a voice!  I thought, “What am I doing here?”  But I sang well enough to be in the company of those truly gifted talents. 

I always knew when Wolfgang was directing his criticism at me since he would start in English and I was the only native English speaker in the crowd.  Amazing, German was still spoken throughout the country although the German colonial regime was kicked out by British South Africa in 1915 after a brief German rule.  Afrikaaners was the language of ”coloreds,” and Afrikaaners from South Africa who between them dominated most business and commerce.  The administration of first president Sam Nujomo was drawn from the largest ethnic group, Ovambos from the north of the country.  But the country had decided to make English its official language.  And the show was to be sung in English.

The venue chosen was also an unlikely choice, an old brewery converted into something of a disco club.  There was an elevated stage where presumably the “go-go” dancers performed with a dicey stair down to the main stage about three feet above the main floor.  The orchestra “pit” was below the upper stage.  The main feature of the stage was a construction scaffolding donated by a contactor who my wife recruited. 

After alot of hard work, opening night arrived.  The reaction was stunning, “Jesus Christ Superstar” quickly became the most exciting thing to ever hit sleepy Windhoek.  Not lost on the crowds was the fact that it was staged by local performers.  Before independence most shows were imported from South Africa or further.  Wolfgang proved that it could be done. All perfomances were sell-outs.  For a brief time “Jesus Christ Superstar” dominated the news of the capital. 

Wolfgang invited the manager of the local bank that had financed the show and his staff to a special performance followed by a champagne toast.  The manager hoisted his glass in a salute saying, “I particularly liked the fellow with the deep, powerful voice,” meaning me.  I smiled at Wolfgang who was probably groaning in sotovoce, here is my “bete noire” getting special attention. 

Before closing night Wolfgang looked at the assembled cast and said, “Don’t forget to pick up your envelope.”

I asked some friends, “What envelope?”

“Our pay.” 

I was astounded, we were being paid and not a paltry sum. 

After the final show some of my fellow cast members said, “Leo that was the best singing you have done.”

I replied, “If I had known I was being paid, I would have been singing like a canary.”

Through that singlular event I got to know the people of Namibia and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience  Two years later I came to know another “foreign” people by singing in musicals with them, New Yorkers. But that is another story.