PLAY ON: "I think the results on opening night and the full run will speak for itself," the priest and playwright says of his latest musical. Pictured below with director Greg Thames ad creative consultant Alwyn Bully.
Immaculately attired in his trademark snow-white robe, his silvery gray hair glistening under the bright arena lights, Father HoLung takes a comfy seat among the empty audience chairs as the night's rehearsal session for his latest smash-in-the-making musical King David slips into high gear. Every now and again he makes his way over to director Greg Thames to offer his suggestions, and Thames readily nods in agreement.
It should come as no surprise that Father HoLung is deeply involved in every aspect of the annual blockbuster showcase - from conception to opening night. And, as evidenced by his winning Jamaicanized adaptation of David's story and the tuneful and richly melodic songs he has penned to go with it, his golden touch and remarkable artistry (at age 76!) have not waned an iota. By all accounts, audiences are in for a treat when they come to see the show.
TALLAWAH spent time with the multihyphenate icon on set a few evenings ago talking about giving King David a memorable score, his assessment of modern Jamaica under the Simpson-Miller administration, and how he's preparing the future leaders of Missionaries of the Poor.
TALLAWAH: For many, the music is the main draw to a Father HoLung & Friends production. How do you feel about the soundtrack accompanying King David's story?
Father HoLung: There are some very deep reggae songs in this musical. It's a very lyrical production, but at the same time, it's very modern with a lot of melodic reggae and spiritual music, beautiful flowing rhythms. It's a very Jamaican version of the Biblical story, so I expect our audiences to enjoy it as much as they enjoyed our previous shows.
TALLAWAH: What was your favourite part of adapting this immensely popular Biblical saga for the main stage?
Father HoLung: I have a very deep love for David as a character; he's what they called a man after God's own heart. A very thoughtful and poetic individual. He wrote all those beautiful psalms, and even though he came from among the common people the Lord lifted him up. There is a sense of wisdom and understanding that you feel when you read about him. And that's what I wanted to bring out in my adaptation. I think the results on opening night and the full run will speak for itself.
TALLAWAH: You've been a patriarchal figure and a source of inspiration for Jamaicans for years. But to whom do you turns when you need a shoulder to lean on, or just to talk about something that's bothering you?
Father HoLung: I have the brothers who I can always rely on. Even though I am older, they are very mature men. Some of them are now heading into their 50s and have been with the brotherhood for many years. I share a lot with them. Even sometimes at night when there are things on my mind, I'm not afraid to wake up certain brothers. We are constantly discussing way of how we can better serve the poor.
TALLAWAH: When you reflect on the current state of affairs in Jamaica and the projections for the future, does the Simpson-Miller administration get you stamp of approval?
Father HoLung: I admire how she's very sensitive to certain issues. Portia has never conceded to people who are pressuring her to make certain decisions and give in to certain things, and I appreciate that very much. I also find that she is genuinely concerned about the poor. When our two brothers were murdered she was the most concerned politician attending to the brothers' grief. I admire that she she strongly upholds certain moral values, which are important for the stability of the country. But I think she needs to have greater readiness to correct members of her party, especially on matters of corruption. That I would like to see.
TALLAWAH: Which brings us to Vision 2030. Is it achievable?
Father HoLung: At the rate we're going I don't think that vision is achievable. We have to urgently attend to certain things plaguing the society. We have to take strong measures on matters of life and morality. We have to correct the immorality and loose behaviour in our society. And it is not just the responsibility of the church. All of us have a role to play. Let us put greater emphasis on the value of hard work and having strong work ethics and getting stricter about law and order so our upstanding citizens are not living in fear.
TALLAWAH: With your retirement from active duty looming, Missionaries of the Poor is in a state of transition. Are you pleased with how the future is shaping up for the brotherhood?
Father HoLung: My main aspiration is to be able to pass things along to the brothers through continued teaching and mentorship. It takes time, but the brothers are solid and grounded men who are dedicated to serving God and caring for the needy. Brother Augustus [his successor] is a strong leader, very humble and prayerful, and he understands my vision and where the brotherhood needs to go. Missionaries of the Poor will continue to train brothers who are spiritual, realistic and dedicated to the building of a community of service.