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Hope & borders: Musical follows a Somali refugee’s journey

Keep on truckin’: Actors use props to create a vehicle in the musical “A Man of Good Hope,” opening Feb. 15 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
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The Muslim ban meets a Muslim band!

A vibrant musical opening next week will give a singing, dancing spotlight to a young Muslim refugee, who flees Somalia’s civil war and takes an epic journey along the lush east coast of Africa to Cape Town and ultimately to the United States. “A Man of Good Hope,” opening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Feb. 15, is a story riddled with loss and violence, but it is an uplifting testament to the human spirit that stands in defiance of exclusionary politics, said one of the show’s producers.

“It’s such a hopeful story,” said Joseph Melillo. “And given the backdrop of what’s going on now with our government, it shows how people of a different race, of a different religion can give us a different understanding of happiness.”

Somalia is one of the seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Trump’s recent immigration ban, which gives the production additional resonance, said Melillo.

“It’s taken on a different kind of importance than I anticipated,” said Melillo. “When I scheduled this Obama was still president. Now it certainly has significance on a variety of levels.”

The musical, based on the book by Jonny Steinberg, follows the true story of Asad Abdullahi, who starts the show as an 8-year-old refugee caught up in a civil war. Abdullahi flees from one village to the next in pursuit of a better life, with four actors playing the role as he evolves into a bright teen, a budding entrepreneur, and a man marred by his war-torn experiences.

His journey, which starts in Somalia and snakes down Africa’s east coast, is filled with a colorful cast of characters, as well as music that blends different African rhythms on the marimba — a mallet-struck wooden xylophone. The beats capture the vibe of the countries that Abdullahi travels through, said Melillo.

“The music drives the story. It creates that beautiful musical sound that we associate with South Africa,” he said. “The story is a great celebration of humanity and it’s all done through music and dancing and singing. It’s just a rich mix.”

The production uses simple, abstract staging to render its different locations, using free-standing, closed doors to represent country borders, and performers holding up tires and a steering wheel to create a truck. The show is unlike anything else in the borough, said Melillo.

“It’s about an exuberant story about hope — showing that it’s not just a theory, it’s a fact,” he said. “We knew we had to bring this to Brooklyn. There’s nothing like this in New York City today.”

“A Man of Good Hope” at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House [651 Fulton St. between Rockwell and Ashland places in Fort Greene, www.bam.org]. Feb. 15–18 at 7:30 pm, Feb. 19 at 3 pm. $24–$80.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 12:31 pm, March 13, 2017
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