Strong music, weak story in 'Nesta's Rock'
Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
As Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (JMTC) chairman Doug Bennett has pointed out, 2015 is turning out to be one of the most productive years in the company's "long history".
Much of the JMTC's productivity is really due to the work of its junior affiliate, the Jamaica Junior Theatre (JJT), which has the musical, Nesta's Rock, now running at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA). In June, it will begin presentation of its 25th annual In Concert season.
Nesta's Rock is the most recent of the JJT full-length musicals which have been staged annually since 1984, when Alice in Wonderland was mounted. On Saturday when I saw the show, Bennett told me that the musical was proving so popular with sponsors that 24 of its 28 performances had been sold as benefits.
It was clear to me that the production is also popular with young people. Behind me sat an entire row of performers' friends, who noisily and joyfully called out to the actors and actresses as they threw themselves into their roles with infectious energy and enjoyment.
There is a lot to admire in the production, which, the programme states, is "inspired by the childhood of Robert Nesta Marley". In Melbourne Douglas, who plays Ness/Nesta, the show has a wonderful singer-dancer-actor.
Other players stand out, too, like Andrew Bailey as Blackheart Man (the name is misleading, he is a good guy); Quickore Bennett as Big K, who tries to boss everybody in Kingston Town; Sydnie Greaves as the stall owner Aunty; and Soraya Dabdoub as Nella, Nesta's friend and guide.
There is a notable freshness to the show - meaning a difference from the many Broadway-style musicals that the JJT has produced (including excellent ones like The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast, Jesus Christ Superstar and Cats).
This comes from the combined efforts of the creative team. I refer to writers Jodi Ho Lung and Samantha Chin Yee, director Peter Haley, various composers and lyricists (including chief composer Seretse Small), chief choreographer Tony Wilson and his assistant, costume designer Carolyn Chin Yee, and set designer Michael Lorde.
Actually, I don't like the story. It's paper thin and repetitious - the one because of the other - and full of flat, underdeveloped, too often ill-tempered characters. Many live in "the crazy chaotic town" (the programme's words). When compared to the coherent musicals mentioned earlier, the story of Nesta's Rock seems itself chaotic.
That said, however, the writers have given the rest of the team a situation (separate from story) on which they built a production which both looks beautiful and sounds good. The lovely costumes and set have the colours and construction of those seen in your favourite book of fairytales.
And the music is exceptional. It could hardly be otherwise when some of the names associated with the score (in addition to Small) are Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Clement Dodd, Stephen Sondheim, the book writers Ho Lung and Chin Yee, Danielle Stiebel, Carl Lee Scharschmidt and Ade Robinson.
It's obvious why musical variety is one of the show's strong points.