YEAR after year, Roman Catholic priest Father Richard Ho Lung raises funds through his Missionaries of the Poor order for the destitute and forgotten. One of the major fund-raisers is the annual theatrical production which has, over the years, raised millions for the charities.
This year's production is Queen Esther, the story of the Jewish queen who saved her people from the hands of the Persians.
Again, as has become tradition, Father Ho Lung has assembled an impressive team — cast and crew — to bring the production to life.
It all begins with a great story. Ho Lung has taken the solid substrate of the Biblical story upon which he has set an entertaining three hours of music, song and dance. As is customary, in bringing his stories to the stage, Ho Lung injects a healthy dose of present-day themes and issues to make the story much more current and relatable. Issues of migration and xenophobia were shown as age-old problems. This was made clear in the ongoing quest by the Persians to keep their country pure in light of the influx of the Jews. One character suggested “build a wall” to keep out the Jews.
Queen Esther was staged inside the National Arena in St Andrew; this large space lends itself to a grand production. PJ Stewart's set design was simple, but elaborate. Greg Thames' expert direction never allowed the actors to seem lost in the large space.
What is a Father Ho Lung and Friends production without music? Queen Esther has a strong injection of great music from Wynton Williams, who has stepped away from the acting role this year to focus on bringing the story across through melodies.
Actor Boy Award-nominated actor Stephen Rae Johnson is strong as King Xerxes. His acting and singing have definitely improved over the years. His skills on stage were matched by Leighton Jones, who brilliantly portrayed the power-hungry antagonist, advisor Haman. Jones's tenor voice was also put to great use bringing some of the music to life.
Having become accustomed to strong presentations for previous productions such as Moses and The Messiah, Queen Esther does not offer that level of drama. The strength of the production lies in the subtle but effective method of the storytelling and, of course, the movement. Father Ho Lung and Friends can be proud of another successful production.