PLAY ON: "I think Father has grown to trust the group; he knows us very well," says Thames, pictured with PJ Stewart, who has also worked on successive HoLung productions. (Below): Thames, HoLung and Bully.
It’s minutes after two in the morning inside the National Arena, and Greg Thames wants nothing more than a warm drink and a comfy chair to rest his aching feet. The ace director, who is masterminding this month’s remount of Father HoLung & Friends’ Old Testament-inspired mega-musical Moses, has been on for the past seven hours at least, leading the final dress rehearsal and getting things right for the highly anticipated production that begins previews this weekend, ahead of its big dates set for Oct. 1 and 2.
The mammoth cast and creative team (including choreographer Paula Shaw, lighting maestro Robin Baston and creative consultant Alwyn Bully) couldn’t want a more committed and competent leader than Thames, a three-time Actor Boy winner who brings intellect and razor-sharp directorial brio to every project he helms. That’s why he’s been HoLung’s go-to guy for so many years no, bringing us musicals like Acts of the Apostles and last year’s big hit King David.
Now comes the Moses remount, with its juggernaut set design and high-wire score that represents a fun but tough creative challenge for the 52-year-old Thames, who’s been a self-admitted ‘theatre baby’ since he ruled the roost at Campion College, alongside colleagues like Cathy Levy, who’ve also gone on to accomplish great things.
Here, TALLAWAH talks with Thames about embarking on this latest creative odyssey, why writing is not his strong suit, and how the HoLung team achieves such grand successes year after year.
TALLAWAH: Father HoLung has branded this remount as ‘Moses – the Magnificent.’ What say you?
Greg Thames: I think Moses is definitely one of the most epic shows we have ever done. The scope of it is large; there are a lot of things going on. So the only word I can think of is epic.
TALLAWAH: Parting the Red Sea, that pivotal 10 Commandments scene. What’s the biggest creative challenge you guys faced this time around?
Greg Thames: It’s a remount but there have been changes to the script. There have been changes to some of the music because we have made it more current. We’ve also updated the costuming; the set is very different from the original. And we’ve made Moses’ journey much more interactive and a lot more arduous. We portray that to the audience more than we did before.
TALLAWAH: There are some new songs in this version as well, like “Shame on Me.” Is the music the strongest asset?
Greg Thames: I think with every Father HoLung show, the music tends to stand out. Father has a style that’s very different. He mixes in very Jamaican themes, and there’s a kind of dancehall deejaying mixed into [Moses] now that we never had in the older version of the show. So it makes it more current.
TALLAWAH: You’ve been HoLung’s go-to director for several years now. What makes the creative partnership work so well?
Greg Thames: I think it’s because we’ve worked together for so many years. Robin Baston has been the technical director, PJ Stewart has been on set, Wynton [Williams] has been the Musical Director, and I’ve been directing. So the team knows each other’s strengths, weaknesses and how they work. It’s now at that point where we literally can anticipate what each person will bring, which makes it a really good partnership. I think Father has grown to trust the group; he knows us very well. So when we make changes or we suggest different things, he trusts us that we have the vision to take it through and not lose what he’s trying to impart. Because at the bottom of every show is evangelism, and it’s about reaching the people with a message.
TALLAWAH: Do you have plans to write and stage a theatrical hit of your own sometime in the future?
Greg Thames: Me? I don’t think writing is my strong point. I know my own strengths and weaknesses, and I don’t think writing is one of [the strengths], and I’m good with that.
TALLAWAH: Take us down memory lane. What drew you to the world of theatre and stage directing? How did you get your start?
Greg Thames: I started in theatre from I was in high school [Campion College], and one of my classmates, Cathy Levy, and I put on a production. And since then I’ve worked with the Little People and Teen Players for many years when they were around. I’ve worked with the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company as well. And I’ve been in pretty much every aspect of theatre, I’ve done set designs, costume design and makeup. All of the Actor Boy that I’ve won [three in total] are more for creative design than for directing.
TALLAWAH: Artistic or otherwise, what does Greg Thames consider his greatest achievement to date?
Greg Thames: I think that would be to mount one of these shows (Laughs). These shows are bigger than any of the shows you’ll typically see in Jamaica, and we do one like this every year. So the fact that we keep doing it year after year is a miracle in itself.