‘The Messiah’ musical swings in Jamaican beats with Bicol actors

DOING IT RIGHT. Clayton Gidden, Jamaican choreographer, tweaks some dance steps to suit the Philippine atmosphere and actors. JUAN ESCANDOR JR.

By Juan Escandor Jr. NAGA CITY---Jesus Christ sings and dances the Jamaican folk music mento, reggae, dance-hall and rock-steady to retell the story of love, forgiveness and eternal life in the Jamaican-produced musical to be staged for the first time in the Philippines in March in Manila. Similar to the “Jesus Christ Superstar” musical in the 70s, the Jamaican musical production titled “The Messiah” enlisted Bicol actors to sing and swing the hypnotic Jamaican beats to once more retell the story of Jesus Christ from the beginning to the resurrection. The Messiah, produced by the Missionaries of the Poor (MOP), is set to be staged at the Star Theater in the Star City, Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex on March 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17. According to the organizers, the proceeds will be used to finance the completion of the Divine Mercy Apostolate Center in San Andres Bukid, Manila. Hugh Douse, the Jamaican director, immediately draws the difference, saying that unlike the Jesus Christ Superstar, The Messiah is retold from the eastern point of view. “If we are to be true, the story of Jesus Christ is more of an eastern story than a western one because he came from this side of the world,” Douse asserted. He said that most of the major characters, except Jesus Christ who will be acted out by Jamaican actor, are to be played out by Bicol actors of about a hundred casts. “This is a contemporary rendering of the story of Christ and it makes it relevant to youth audience in particular. It takes that energy of how would it be if Jesus were on earth now,” Douse explained. He said the Jesus Christ Superstar was actually a passion play while The Messiah is a flashback by one of the Pharisees, Joseph Arimathea who was transformed from a powerful man to a follower of Jesus. “The story starts with Joseph Arimathea. And throughout the musical, we see his journey from being a persecutor of Christ to his conversion at the very foot of the cross,” he said. “We take that perspective because we want the people to see that if you are opposed to Christ and really look into his life, in the end you will follow him.” Clayton Gidden, Jamaican choreographer who had been with the MOP production for 14 years now, said the choreography of The Messiah is a mixture of different genres, mostly Jamaican-based, rendered “more heartfelt.” “Working with Filipino actors is a bit tricky to match the Filipino atmosphere and background because in Jamaica we do a lot of body movements and speaks more with body movements. We tweak it (choreography) a little bit,” Gidden said. He said there are seven Jamaicans and some 40 Filipinos (Bicol) as cast members. Gidden said The Messiah has toured the United States, Trinidad, Canada and Australia and it will be premiered here at the start of the Holy Week observance. Jonathan Echipare, 25, Bicol actor playing the role of Judas, said he is made to play the role with flexibility since Judas was actually a reasonable man and not the stereotype bad guy. “It is a challenging role because I have to show what Judas did happened for a reason not just out of his whim because he was a bad person,” Echipare said. Emelita Saenz, musical trainer, said cast members from Bicol were recruited from the group called Camerata Cultura, a community-based organization of amateur singers and dancers from different universities and colleges in Naga City founded in 2012. Saenz said they started training and rehearsing since July last year with only the video of the musical to study on with no written libretto nor notation to guide them. “It was doubly hard because the material given to us were just the lines and the video. So, it was listening, listening and listening to learn the music,” she said. Saenz said after learning and memorizing music and the lines, the Bicol casts started rehearsing three times a week beginning November last year, until show time. “It is very helpful that we now have a minus-one copy of the musical,” she said.