Arts & Culture

Isaiah makes triumphant return

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, October 11, 2019

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IT was a Father Ho Lung and Friends production of yesteryear which returned to the stage this year. The production Isaiah, mounted by the popular Catholic priest to raise funds for his many charities, returned to its winning ways after a fall in the standards at more recent stagings.

A Father Ho Lung and Friends production comes with certain key elements. A strong script based on a story drawn from the Bible, but with practical applications and/or parallels to modern-day living. This is then bolstered by the brilliant music to accompany and assist in storytelling. Add to that, strong 'technicals' in terms of lighting, sound, staging and choreography. All these elements were on show in Isaiah and it made the two hours of theatre a worthwhile watch.

Isaiah is essentially an opera, which tells the story of the prophet and his work to free his people. First staged in 1997, the work has stood the test of time and comes across just as new and fresh as it did when it was first mounted. The timelessness of the biblical story aside, what works for this production is the quality of the music. The Wynton Williams touch is clearly stamped on this work. From the recitative work by the narrators to the stirring solos, duets and choral work, the music of Isaiah is a treat. This is evident from the opening notes of the opera, one is presented with tracks such as Shut the Door, You are my Destiny, Yahweh is the King of Victory, and On the Wings of Eagles, beautifully performed.

The music takes on a distinctive Jamaican beat during a scene in the Royal Palace of King Ahaz. Here, the libretto calls on the actors to sample local favourites ranging from Toots & The Maytals' Bam Bam to She's a Maniac, made popular by Richie Stephens and Bounty Killer. This is of particular appeal to the younger demographic as the cast — about 50 and composed, for the most part, of younger performers — brings the stage to life with contemporary dance moves. Then comes the piece de resistance. No Father Ho Lung and Friends production is complete with out the goodly Father making his appearance to 'buss' a move. This is always highly amusing and this year was no different.

The voices of the actors go hand-in-hand with Williams' music and, over the years, these productions have always drawn on some truly talented Jamaicans including the likes of a Darcy Tulloch-Williams, Andrew Lawrence, and Michael Sean Harris. This year, among the talents are Leighton Jones, perennial performer with this production Caryl Constantine, and Leroy Palmer. Young LeAndre Saddler was particularly impressive in the title role.

A Father Ho Lung production is always impressive to look at and in the wide-open space of the National Arena, set designer PJ Stewart pulled together an impressive set that was able to transition smoothly from one scene to another.

Isaiah was well worth the watch.


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