As a long-time believer in the mission of Avondale, the staging of Jericho Road represents a high-water mark in my 50-year association with the college of higher education.
The musical event about love, loss and faithfulness, written by Dr Lindsay Morton from the Faculty of Arts, Nursing and Theology, delivers a work of sophistication. As a creative composer and lyricist with an enviable record of academic achievement, Morton’s willingness to entrust Jericho Road to a group of relatively untried student performers and producers is exceptional. Her trust is well placed. The production team members—Emily Dorrough, Oliver Doyle, Laura Mitchell, Sharna Kosmeier, Minah Bocchino, Felicity Cassie and Jym Bocala—commendably brought the musical event to the stage.
Presented in part by Manifest, Jericho Road once again saw Avondale punching well above its weight in performing arts. Kristy Maletin, as Leila, brought quality vocal performances and acting depth, as did Fomai Mohr, a surprise discovery from among Avondale’s ministry students, as Jacob. Tukahni Greenfield, the child who stole our hearts with her pure voice, poignant lines and parasol, shone as Amalia; and as Ellie, Johanna Kingston contributed astonishing vocal power.
A variety of musical styles brought to life brilliantly by arranger Doyle and his talented orchestra artistically matched Morton’s unforgettable melodic line. The journey included the solemn and almost medieval “Lest We Forget” and the hard-hitting and edgier “Everybody’s Chasing Me.” The classic musical theatre of “Dare to Dream” is deserving of a more permanent place in the history of Christian musicals.
A team of amateur producers and stage hands is bound to come upon challenges in a short season in two different venues. But the occasional unexpected pause in the dark and a few stage whispers into hot microphones did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the audiences. Indeed, in the Avondale environment—where armchair critics exist even in worship events—this technical team raised the bar and showed us what is possible. With more resources, the team may have given us a fuller chorus, taking us into the high energy upon which musical theatre thrives and thoroughly deserves.
Jericho Road does not condemn viewers to an offering of shallow clichés, sentimental dialog and easy answers. In leaving the audience to ponder the tough questions, the musical event presents the opportunity for personal reflection and creates sober markers for exploration into contemporary Christian lifestyle issues.
The big question now facing Avondale’s leaders, academics and artists is whether they are again willing to make this investment in the performing arts a regular feature of campus life. We will all be immeasurably enriched if they are.
Dr Lyell Heise is Director of the Institute of Worship at Avondale College of Higher Education.