The holidays have come and gone but for those wanting to hold onto the Yuletide season for just a little longer, “Joy of Christmas”, a new musical, is set to debut at the Dundas Theatre for Performing Arts, featuring a talented crop of fresh faces in a kaleidoscope of music, drama and dance.
“This production is a dream God placed on my heart for many years. My daughter, Alena, sings and I am constantly on the lookout for venues and platforms. In New Providence, the venues accommodating teens are limited and the platforms are usually given to bigger stars. Outside a school setting, teen talent is either hidden somewhere in the background or utilized as warm-up acts which hardly anyone sees,” said Shuree Munnings, writer and producer.
“Alena has many talented friends, so this production is done with the intention to create a platform for young singers, actors, actresses and those who love to perform. Talent is everywhere in this country. I love children, music and drama. This production blends the three together.”
It took a Herculean effort on the part of the planning committee, consisting of Munnings’ family members and friends, to pull the show together within a short space of time. They commenced work in mid-November.
To gain greater insight into the inner workings of theater production, Munnings reached out to well-known personalities in the entertainment industry for advice. Her network included Terez Davis-Nixon, Michelle Butler, Simmone Bowe and Angelo Martin. They helped to bring her and the team up to speed.
An educator by profession, the entire experience was not only enriching for Munnings, but also for her cast of amateurs.
“The teacher in me wanted it to be a learning experience for the students. I wanted them to receive critiques and advice from those who are a part of the industry in which these teens aspire to enter,” she said.
Accomplished performers such as Adrian Edgecombe, Shenique Ferguson and Candace Bostwick served as guest coaches, providing invaluable feedback to the teens.
“The cast welcomed the instruction and made further adjustments based on the advice they received,” said Munnings.
“The talent at that age is unbelievable and that’s why I would do it all over again in a heartbeat to create this unique platform for them.”
That’s not to say the production didn’t face its share of challenges. It nearly didn’t come to fruition.
“It was just time to get out of my own way and try one of my ideas that God placed within my heart,” said Munnings.
“I always feared failure, but I said to myself the year is almost over, and I am going to give it my all and try; even if three people show up at least I tried.”
Other obstacle included money and timing.
“I did this out of my pocket with support from faithful family and friends. There were costs related to venue, musicians, refreshments for the cast, advertisements, sound engineering, costumes, props and set design, so many little things that you never really understand until you are a part of the process,” she said.
“It was also challenging holding practices during the busy holiday season. It was a stressful time. Most of the cast worked or had other productions to which they were obligated. Remember, they are teens, so they don’t drive. Our parents were faithful and supportive but there were times we had to pick the teens up.”
For her cast of unknown gems, the English/literature teacher hopes bigger opportunities emerge for them in the wake of the musical’s debut.
“I want them to be even better performers than when they began. From this journey, I think they all possess a better understanding of the commitment it takes to make it to the next level. More importantly, I want them to l feel that they do have a place and future in the arts,” she said.
“In me, I hope they see that no matter how long it takes, one should pursue their dreams and develop their talents because it is God’s gift to us, to be used for His glory.”
For Munnings, her directorial debut has been a unique, invigorating experience.
“I have a whole new lease on life. This is a great way to start off the new year,” said the married mother of three.
“I have never felt so alive. I enjoyed every moment. It is something that I will always remember, and I know that it is the first of many more entertaining productions to come, God willing.”
The show debuts on Saturday, January 4, at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at Carey’s Department Store on Mackey Street or at the door. The cost is $25.
“Joy of Christmas” cast:
The Comet Elite dancers: