For the Reckord | A super 'Forbidden Fruit'
Serendipity lifted its lovely head on the University of Technology's three-year-long Fi Wi Jamaica project as it headed into its final six months. This United States Agency for International Development-funded project ends in May 2018. A concert had been planned as the culminating activity for the first of the two cohorts, but at a recent weekend songwriting workshop in Portland, led by songwriter and music producer Michael 'Mikey' Bennett, "someone idly suggested that we do a musical instead".
Telling the story last week Monday, Bennett continued, "We all said yes." The audience he was addressing was at the Courtleigh Auditorium and there to see the musical.
Giving further background to the project, Professor Rosalea Hamilton, head of UTech's project management unit, said, "An important part of the project is the use of music and culture to create the space for the social and economic transformation we're trying to effect."
"While the project has several objectives and components, music runs through all. It is used as part of the therapy for human trafficking and domestic and intimate-partner violence being tackled."
Written by Michael Holgate and Trudy Bell and directed by Holgate, Forbidden Fruit is a fast-paced, hour-long musical with Romeo and Juliet's 'star-crossed lovers' theme. The couple in this tale are Kyle (Michael Allen) and Lisa (Minori Russell), and the doubtful premise of their forbidden love problem is that he is from uptown and she is from downtown. I found the premise weak because both are university students and it is generally accepted in Jamaica that education is the great social leveller.
When the writers are re-working the script perhaps as a film or television miniseries, which is what its snappy scenes seem designed for - they might consider taking a leaf from Trevor Rhone's Old Story Time with its "anything black nuh good" motif.
By accident or design, the producers cast a browning as Kyle and a black woman as Lisa. That circumstance could be fruitfully exploited.
Apart from the prejudice of Kyle's parents because of where she lives, Lisa faces a couple of other problems: She lacks the requisite school fees and - rather belatedly, since she is all of 18 - she has been summoned for sex by the area don, Trigga. Played by Prince McHuel, he is not your stereotypical heartless villain, but a man with a social conscience who, even while he does much wrong, also helps many in his community.
In line with Fi Wi Jamaica objectives, the writers deliberately created a community drama that ends with questions for the audience, the basic one being, 'If you were in my shoes, what would you do?' Among the many characters asking it are Trigga, Lisa (in relation to her choice of becoming one of the don's women in exchange for him paying her school fees), and Kyle (whose choice is between Lisa and an uptown girl, Madison, played by Justine Rookwood, chosen by his mother, Joy, played by Rochelle Jackson.
No doubt because the creators of the production Holgate, Bell, composer and musical director Bennett, performance coach Philip Clarke, costume designer Conroy B. Wilson, communications consultant Fabian Thomas, and others have many years of showbiz experience, the audience got a top-flight show. But high praise must also go to the cast, whose performance suggested that they, too, were experienced thespians, when, in fact, many were making their stage debut. The acting, dancing and singing of the show's dozen songs were probably so good because many of the words were the actors' own and based on situations reflective of their actual experiences.