Monday, 10 October 2011

STELLAR SHOWCASE: HoLung’s Acts of the Apostles is a rousing, dazzling piece of art

DEFIANT TO THE END: Christian martyrdom takes the spotlight.

“I’d rather go to hell than be a Christian,” declares the malevolent Roman big-wig Claudio at one point in the operatic production Acts of the Apostles. The declaration is made in jest, but trust he means every single word. How else could one explain his relentless quest to persecute and eventually rid his territory of the Christian believers who have bonded together in the wake of Christ’s death to spread the gospel? As menacingly portrayed by Jean-Paul Menou, Claudio is all pomp and evil in its purest form, driving fear into the hearts of innocents.

But as the New Testament purports, the Christians, under the leadership of Simon Peter (Wynton Williams/Michael Harris), remained steadfast in their mission to carry on the work of the ascended Christ and build the church. As fate would have it, martyrdom and acts of selfless heroism were rampant in those days, but especially according to St. Luke, who penned the Biblical book that provides Father HoLung with the rewarding, titular source material to stage this spirited and frequently captivating production, his third operatic effort, filled with lush choral numbers and moments of palpable intensity. And it's majorly successful, too, in its bid to forge that key connection between cast and audience.

Having developed quite a reputation for taking spiritual-based stories and spinning them into richly entertaining works with freshness and appeal, Father HoLung in large part realizes much of the same with his latest, which does take creative liberties with the scriptures. Divided into two acts of 12 scenes each, the production yields numerous highlights, memorable in more ways than one. From the stoning of Stephen to the blinding of the strong-willed Susanna to a fascinatingly executed shipwreck scene, there is much to applaud.

That said, one of the show’s major assets is the excellent lighting design, the kind that one has come to expect from Robin Baston, especially when he’s given sufficient room to manoeuvre and experiment as he does with this show, which, as it happens, delivers its best moments when the big choral numbers take centrestage. The blend of voices is just magnificent (the affirmative “We Believe” and “Heaven” are lingering). Williams, also the show’s musical director, truly deserves kudos.

As with any artistic effort, Acts of the Apostles is not without flaw, however small. I found that quite a few of the solos fell flat, not connecting as strongly as the choral numbers did. And I had anticipated a more pivotal role in the grand scheme of things from the Simon Peter character, which ultimately achieves little. More impactful among the dramatis personae were ancillary characters like Paul (Rohan Jacques), Lydia (Nadean Rawlins), Susanna (Grace McDonald) and, of course, Claudio, remarkably rendered by Menou.

Still, as a whole, it bears repeating that the show hits some pretty amazing notes and is simply rich with visual interest. Director Greg Thames fascinatingly blends the elements of diverse music, movement (Paula Shaw, choreographer) and terrific choral harmonies with HoLung’s dramatization to produce a memorable and rousing dazzler, featuring at its core something anyone, Christian or no, can readily identify with: the inevitable task of fighting the good fight. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+



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