According to production director Deborah Jean-Baptiste-Samuel, in a statement on the programme, it proved "an exhilarating challenge to transform the properly manicured teenaged ladies of St Francois Girls College into battle-ready calypsonians of the 1930s" for their roles in Rawle Gibbons' calypso musical Sing De Chorus.
The successful result stemming from that challenge was vividly demonstrated when the premiere of the institution's three-night tenth anniversary production was staged at Queen's Hall in St Ann's last Friday evening before an audience comprising parents, peers, and well-wishers.
The storyline in Sing De Chorus chronicles the turbulent years of the calypsonians in the 1930s and 1940s, and showcases not just the many calypsoes of the era, but looks behind the scene at the lives of the men and women who were the mouthpiece of the people–the investigative reporter who tried to give the story as it really happened.
The make-up duo of C Farray and L Fouchong deserves full praise for the work done in the physical transformation of the all-female cast into believable-looking men to play the roles of calypsonians with the style and character of the era.
While the cast would have only read about artistes such as Atilla the Hun, Lord Beginner, Lord Executor, Growling Tiger, King Radio, Lady Iere, and Invader, to name a few, members were able to clothe their portrayals with the swagger history records as being a characteristic of the individuals.
In the opening act we had glimpses of the relationships between Battler (Anna Bethel), Madame Dorothy (Candice Villafana), Saga (Destinee-Ann Robinson), and others who inhabited their barrack yard commune, and the rite-of-passage a newcomer had to go through before he could claim to be a true calypsonian.
We experienced performances in the La Cou Kaiso tent of Scandal In The Treasury from Atilla (Shania Shallow)–the best singer among the cast; Country Club Scandal from Radio (TS Davis), and other calypsoes from Executor (Arlene Williams), Timer (Kishanna Ashton) and others.
During the period related to the story, one of the challenges the calypsonians faced was the censorship of their songs. Inspector of Police (Andrea Richardson) and his lackey Corporal Santapee (Alana Atwell) brought the arrogance and bullheadedness to their roles that incensed the singers who, nevertheless, continued to find a way to expose the scandal and "bobol" among the ruling colonial class. The conflict climaxed with the passing of the Theatre and Dancehall Ordinance that crippled the calypsonians as their songs' lyrics had to receive the stamp of approval from the law (Inspector and Santapee).
The play also explored the plight of workers that culminated in the Butler Riots in Fyzabad and the influence that "US dollars" had on the art form resulting in establishment of the Bonanza Entertainment Centre where we saw Rishanna Ashton, Dari-anne Campbell, and Destinee-Ann Robinson as the Andrew Sisters doing Lord Invader's Rum and Coca Cola that became a huge hit for the trio in 1945.
According to Jean-Baptiste-Samuel, for the students, the exercise "was an education in calypso of the 1930s era, and an appreciation for the poetry in those calypsoes, an exploration of the cultural elements, and an explosion in musical song."
She expressed the hope that the experience of performing in the dramatic musical will be etched in their memory, and expand their understanding of the oral art form of calypso.
The St Francois Girls College began its annual drama production in 2005 with the staging of Penelope Spencer's In The Blink Of An Eye at the Central Bank Auditorium in Port-of-Spain.