Fertiliser island scents musical success: First Night: Leonardo
A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Friday 04 June 1993
But His Excellency President Bernard Dowiyogo of the Republic of Nauru and First Lady, Madam Christina Dowiyogo, beamed. The chief secretary to the government hummed along, and the chief justice shot warning glances at the critics.
But the critics were smiling; for the same reason that back in the offices the headline writers were full of anticipation. How many times do you have a West End musical financed by an eight-mile square South Pacific island whose wealth comes from the export of fertiliser?
There were those who really wanted this show to be a stinker. In fact Leonardo the Musical - a Portrait of Love, at the Strand Theatre, did not altogether oblige, being more run of the mill than reeking; a passable gawky love story with some catchy tunes. Shame about the history.
Leonardo tells of a romance between Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa. Almost as improbable, but actually true, is the genesis of the show: it was the brainchild of Duke Minks, a 47-year-old Liverpudlian, an adviser to the Nauruan government and road manager to the Sixties one-hit wonder pop group Unit 4 Plus 2.
Minks took tape-recorded extracts to Nauru, played them to most of the Cabinet, who were so impressed they stumped up pounds 2m, partly to widen knowledge of their country, partly to make what they believe is a good investment which might still be showing returns when their phosphate reserves run out in five years. On this they might find they are better informed about the enriching powers of fertiliser than of a West End musical.
At the gala reception afterwards, hosted by the President of Nauru at the Waldorf Hotel, it became evident that this might be the first musical which attracts more charter flights than coach parties. About 40 Nauruans had made the journey halfway round the world for last night's performance; not that the cost would have been off-putting for a population thought to have the highest per capita income in the world. The president said: 'I am really excited. I am trying to be objective, but I have my fingers crossed that this show will tour the world.
'I don't know myself whether the love aspect is entirely true (Leonardo, not historically famous for his romantic liaisons, makes Mona Lisa pregnant during a night of passion). But a bit of love, a bit of music, it takes the worries away.'
Kelly Emiu, chief secretary to the Nauruan government, said he was convinced this was the true story of Leonardo's love for Mona Lisa. 'I think it is beautiful,' he said.
Small wonder the poor girl couldn't manage a full-blooded smile.
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