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Romero, by Carlos Reyes-Manzo, 1979

Photo of Oscar Romero © by Carlos Reyes-Manzo, 1979

Romero the sixth

Some thoughts on the London Première of Romero the Musical

Liam Bauress (September 2009)

Disclaimer

This is not a review of the London Premiere of ROMERO the Musical (in September 2009), but some reflections on the event and what it might portend.

As the composer, I am too close to be objective and more likely to have extreme reactions, both positive and negative. I well remember sitting next to a composer at the world premiere of his major new work at the end of which I heard him mutter "Close!". He then mysteriously vanished from the reception afterwards. And I had thought the performance was fine!

It is always so heartening to see young people putting their special energy, passion and creativity into a show with evident commitment and enjoyment and CLICK Productions and their director/producer Audrey Tang provided this, bringing it all together innovatively with the curtain-call reprise of the great Psalm of liberation ‘When the Lord delivered Zion, oh how it seemed like a dream!’.

Their performance confirmed my belief that the show can jump out of the Catholic box, as it were, despite being chock full of bishops, priests and nuns. Monsenor Romero’s story is a universal human one of somehow finding the costly courage to fight for peace and justice and move right out of one’s cosy comfort zone. It remains to be seen whether the show can jump out of its Youth Musical box. De facto, all six full productions of ROMERO, beginning with Worth School in 1982, have had young casts.

But I see no reason why it could not be staged by an adult cast. Indeed the main point of my producing a downloadable DIY drama package here on RomeroTheMusical.com was to make the show easily accessible to a much wider audience of drama groups as we approached the 30th Anniversary on 24th March 2010 of Monsenor’s death and at the same time arrange for all the proceeds to go to CAFOD’s El Salvador projects.

On a personal note, I had thought for some years that on the eventual death of my father, I would be moved to write a Requiem but when he died in 2007 at the age of 91, the idea formed in my head to use some of my inheritance to digitise ROMERO completely [director’s script, vocal score, full pit orchestra score, backing track CD, guide track CD etc.] and post it up on a website dedicated to my father’s memory.

Venues

As regards the type of production venues that work well, it is good when the building is obviously on your side as when ROMERO was performed, in whole or in part, in Guildford Cathedral, Southwark Cathedral and Worth Abbey Church. CLICK’S creative set design featuring five stained-glass windows commemorating each of the martyrs in the play was perhaps a tacit recognition that a church is the ideal setting, after all, many scenes occur in San Salvador Cathedral and musically the deep structure of the piece is a Missa Brevis [Kyrie,Gloria,Sanctus,Agnus Dei] with Responsorial Psalm and Lord’s Prayer. I respectfully draw liturgy-planners’ attention to this ‘Romero Mass’ within the score, in case you are assembling repertoire for a forth-coming commemorative service in March 2010.

I would like to mention four members of the audience who were at the very first performance back in 1982.

  • Julian Filochowski, as the Director of CAFOD at the time and more recently through the Romero Trust, has worked tirelessly to promote the cause of Archbishop Romero. He has also spurred us on to get the musical performed again, supporting the process in myriad ways. We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.
  • Irma Gomez had been a headmistress of a school for the blind in El Salvador but because of her friendship with Archbishop Romero, the school began receiving bomb threats. Amnesty managed to bring her out safely to Britain, and a little later, Sarah Woodhouse who had campaigned on her behalf brought her to Worth Abbey for the first performance.
  • At the end of the show, Irma rushed up and hugged Dermot Woolgar who had just given a deeply moving portrayal of Monsenor. It was such a joy to see Irma, Sarah and Dermot reunited at the London Premiere. Sarah, by the way, has been another great promoter of the musical down the years, bending the ear of Andrew Lloyd-Webber on occasion [her husband, Jim, had been his housemaster at Westminster School before becoming Headmaster of Lancing College].
  • And the fourth member of the audience? My partner in musical crime, George Daly, who not only wrote the libretto/script of ROMERO but has directed and produced it three times [1982,1989,2000]. Thank you, George, for keeping the flame alive, and all the best for the revival of our very different show SHAKEN NOT SPEARED [the Ultimate Shakespeare Play] next April back in the Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre.

Finally

I would like to acknowledge the huge contribution to the ROMERO project of Richard Benbow who not only arranged the magnificent pit-orchestra score but also recorded the eminently usable backing track. Richard had long-term prior musical commitments and was unable to attend the London Premiere.

Both of us are naturally looking forward to the day when the full score of ROMERO is performed live. Will we have to wait until the Canonisation celebrations?

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