Pittsburgher Griffin Matthews is a man on a mission to help Uganda. What started as a charitable journey to the AIDS-ravaged war-torn country inspired him to found the UgandaProject and co-create "Witness Uganda," a musical having its world premiere at Harvard University's American Repertory Theater, under the direction of Tony winner Diane Paulus.
The idea of outsiders trying to help the people of Uganda can't help but conjure another musical, the outrageous comedy "The Book of Mormon." "I think the Boston Globe called it an antidote to that -- it couldn't be farther away from 'The Book of Mormon,' " said Ms. Paulus, who spoke of the Richard Rodgers Award-winning production as "her current baby" among her own projects.
"Call it a karmic rebalancing," is how Sandy MacDonald's glowing review in The Globe began. "Three years ago, while 'The Book of Mormon' was prompting near-universal praise (and an ongoing box office bonanza) with its 'satirical' take on the poverty and ignorance afflicting Uganda, two young musical-theater aficionados, Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews, were tinkering with a very different treatment. The long overdue corrective has burst forth at the American Repertory Theater in the form of 'Witness Uganda,' a joyous, wrenching experience drawn from life."
Mr. Matthews, who earned a BFA from the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in 2003, and his partner, composer Gould, developed the show at the Cambridge, Mass.-based theater for several years before it opened Feb. 4. Mr. Matthews plays himself in a cast that includes Kristolyn Lloyd, CMU class of '07.
The actor, whose frequent TV appearances include "The Cashmere Mafia" and "The Carrie Diaries," has been splitting his time between Los Angeles and New York City when not working on "Witness Uganda" or in support of the UgandaProject, a nonprofit organization that sponsors education for orphans living in the African nation.
The journey to being a ray of hope for Ugandan orphans began when the then 23-year-old Mr. Matthews accepted the invitation of L.A. friends to volunteer abroad for one summer. The synopsis of the musical at witnessuganda.com explains further:
"Uganda, 2005: Griffin, a black American volunteer, arrives from New York City to help build a village school and escape his church's probing into his sexuality. But when he falls into a complicated relationship with a group of destitute, orphaned teenagers, he becomes obsessed with a mission that will change his and their lives forever. ... 'Witness Uganda' documents the story of a man battling to find his place in a world full of injustice and inhumanity and explores the question 'is changing the world even possible?' "
"Witness Uganda" runs through March 16. More info: americanrepertorytheater.org and witnessuganda.com.
Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.