During the second half of Grease at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, audience members are entertained with the voice of an angel — a teen angel to be exact. Kasano Mwanza steals the show with a soulful performance of “Beauty School Dropout.”
“We all know the Frankie Valli version, which is great, and it’s sort of this classical version,” explained Mwanza. “I can sing like that [the Valli version], but…I wanted to push a different version of it.”
Mwanza chose this version because of a TV performance he saw years ago by actor/singer Billy Porter. So, he offered the soulful version during his audition at the dinner theater. Though the music director liked it, he asked Mwanza to sing it in a higher key. Skeptically, he gave it his best shot.
“I’m thinking, ‘you better sell this Kasano, because you want this job!’” he said of the audition. “It went smoothly; I felt good about it. It was just good energy.” Shortly after, he got a call and an email — he now does eight shows a week. “It’s a sweet gig,” he said. “Never in my whole life have I not had to go on stage for the first act.”
Grease is the seventh show he’s performed in at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. It has an eight-month run that began March 3 and runs through October 28. “You kind of become a family,” said Mwanza of working with the other cast members and crew during the show’s long run. “You get to really learn what people are like and spend time with them.”
Mwanza always had a passion for acting, singing and dancing. Though he combines these talents in Grease, he is also delving into each of them separately. In 2014, he released his first album, States & Chapters, which is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.
In 2016, he came together with the group the Vibes. The band mixes funk, R&B, soul and pop music. They have a recently released single, “Make your Fantasy True,” (www.kasanomusic.com) that band members wrote collaboratively.
Though he was mainly raised in Minnesota, Mwanza is an immigrant to the U.S. He recalled leaving his home in Zambia for Minnesota as a young child. One day after school, he came home to a house that had been all packed up in preparation for a move. His mother told him they were leaving for the U.S.
Mwanza, his mother and three siblings, arrived at the Minnesota airport during the dead of winter, and when the cold wind came through the open airport doors, he asked his mother why there were refrigerators outside. His mother explained that it was the Minnesota winter temperatures, the likes of which he had never experienced before.
Years later, while exploring his acting, he began writing and rediscovering his Zambian culture. He wrote a musical called Maharu, which he said reflects many parts of his own life. “It’s about this family who for generations performed this ritual to keep evil spirits at bay. And the story starts the day this ritual doesn’t work,” he explained.
A curse is on the family, and for every female child born into the family, her father passes away. The story follows a little girl, Maharu, in her journey to rid the family of the curse and bring their rituals back.
“This writing helped me go back mentally to Zambia, to listen to music to understand things I forgot about the culture, about our language, about clothing, prints, all the sort of things that [ties] this musical together and gives it an authentic feel of the region.”
Following his passion for dance, he first joined Kinetic Evolutions Dance Company, which had a modern jazz dance focus. He is now a part of Contempo Physical Dance Company, which he said he enjoys even more. “They are Afro-Brazilian contemporary dance, which was a genre I felt I could connect with.”
Mwanza is considering many possibilities for his future in the entertainment industry, including returning to graduate school for entertainment business. “How do I become who I want to become? Because I can’t do all of [the things I want] if I stay being the person I am now. In order to venture…forward, I have to create openings, and I have to create a path. So the only way you do that is through business.”
He is also considering using his love of travel and cruises to entertain on a cruise ship — combining both work and travel inexpensively.
Kasano and the Vibes perform at different venues around the Twin Cities. Their next gig will be on October 1, 9:30 pm, at Honey at Ginger Hop, 205 E. Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis.
Additionally, don’t miss Mwanza’s amazing solo performance at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s Grease — a must see.
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader response to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vickie Evans-Nash is a contributing writer and former editor in chief at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.