Monday, 14 January 2013

PLAY IT AGAIN: Youthful zest, lively score give Skoolaz its spark

THAT'S THE SPIRIT: Cast members performing one of the show's musical numbers.

Skoolaz (LTM National Pantomime) 
Director: Robert ‘Bobby’ Clarke 
Cast: Cadine Hall, Faith Bucknor, Doreen King, and Kevin Halstead 
Venue: Little Theatre, Kingston 

From their use of street lingo to their manner of dress to the impact of modern technology on their everyday lives, the experiences of today’s young people stand in sharp contrast to those of past generations. And it is precisely this observation that forms the crux of the latest LTM National Pantomime, Skoolaz, a hugely entertaining and vividly staged musical comedy that boasts a terrific production design and upbeat, supercatchy numbers that are as toe-tapping fun as they are melodiously tuneful. 

In short, Skoolaz is the best national pantomime to have come along in the space of the last five years. But Jamaican audiences have witnessed the school-and-scandal spectacle before – back in ’89 and ’95 when the show made its initial dent in the cultural psyche as Schoolers 1 and 2. As it happens, this latest reincarnation is a timely offering for latter-day theatregoers. 

Plot-wise, it’s a bit thin on the meat, but overall it’s a cohesive, well-written story that’s equally transporting and insightful while offering testament to playwright Barbara Gloudon’s ability to engage with the times (not to mention the youth landscape) as it continues to evolve and take on fresh colours. 

The story centres on students from two fictional high-schools – the all-boys institution Manus Rulus Academy and the Sunlight Finishing School for Girls; their busybody principals (played by Cadine Hall and Sharon Edwards), and deputy (Kevin Halstead), excitable senior teacher Miss Konolly (Doreen King), and the gossiping female vendors who sell at the school gates, chief among them Miss Ina (a marvelous Faith Bucknor). 

A bit of mystery develops when a monument to be erected at Manus Rulus becomes the object of desire for the scheming scoundrel Scrappa Rappa (Orlando Lawrence), a self-proclaimed rapper of verse and scrapper of metals,” who will stoop to any level to get his grimy hands on the shiny prize. It soon becomes a job for the students to save the day by hatching a plan to thwart the thief’s plan and restore a sense of order to their community. 

That said, Skoolaz doesn’t skimp on its dosage of teenage angst brought to life compellingly by a cast predominantly comprised of real-life high-schoolers, who imbue the production with gallons of exuberance. Director Bobby Clarke does a skilful job of eliciting commendable performances from these young and inexperienced charges, even as he balances the show’s blend of lyrics (Gloudon) and music (Grub Cooper) with the heavier technical work of contributors Anya Gloudon-Nelson (costumes), Symonne Coombs (props), Michael McDonald (lighting) and Michael Lorde, who truly outdid himself with the set design. 

Overall, Skoolaz offers wholesome family fun as a vibrant production with lots of spark and lots of youthful exuberance. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

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