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"How we love a bit of gossip!" The closing refrain from "Laney," a musical written by Barbados Community College (BCC) student Mari-Jo JohnRose, the daughter of former broadcaster Johnson JohnRose and Veda Challenger of Canefield.

Although just a small production for the acting department's end-of-year exam, it was a full house at the BCC theatre, and the crowd in attendance was treated to a highly entertaining evening's performance.

In an exhibition of the exceptional talent coursing through the youth, the production of Laney was a great exhibition of creativity, professionalism and acting ability. Running for approximately 50 minutes – the musical was condensed from about 90 minutes for the purposes of the examination - the light-hearted and fast-paced show featured not only an original script but also original music written by the 17-year-old JohnRose.

The drama-comedy of Laney tells a story of deceit, cunning and forgiveness. The script revolves around the title character, a young drifter played by Naomi Graham, who finds herself stumbling into trouble in a lively market scene. There is a robbery. People are framed. There is a murder and an execution. There is gossip. Finally, there is a court case and Laney is tried. Is she innocent or guilty? The final verdict is left for the audience to decide in true cliffhanger manner.

The soundtrack of reggae-pop and jazz music is riveting. The opening song, "Scream" aptly captures the essence of the main character. "I don't care about this hard knock town, this hard knock life, about these hard knock words" Laney sings with conflicting emotion. "You Did This To Me" brings tears to your eyes. It tells the stories of the various troubled characters and their unpleasant experiences: Emelia's dad is a gay priest who cheated on her mother; Grace who was neglected by her family, Marie who was abandoned by her mother at the age of five; the stories got worse with each character, leading up to Laney who had too many problems.

"Good Morning Executioner" is rather melancholy as sister Mal and Mauvais prepare to face the executioner for killing someone. They have accepted their fate and are at peace with themselves. "Good morning executioner, oh how the time has passed. I hear that we are moving on to peacefulness at last" each one sang as the shots from the firing squad rang out.

It was a masterful piece of work by a talented youngster and brilliant acting by the cast, backed by a beautifully constructed backdrop inclusive of clever and brisk set changes, with the stage transforming at various points between a marketplace, a prison cell, and a court house.

"I was asked to write a script that was something like Burlesque meets Chicago," said the young writer, Mari-Jo JohnRose, "but the idea for Laney actually came about because I'd written a song before in which the main character's name was Laney, and in that song I already had the personality and backstory of the character in my head, so I just took it and ran with it."

JohnRose said that she was very confident in the success of the script from the outset, and had the full support of her drama teacher Michelle Cox, as well as her classmates.

"Sometime in May of this year I showed a draft of the script to my teacher, and she thought it was awesome, and then when I showed it to my classmates they all loved it and were all willing to work on it."

JohnRose says she plans to pursue a career in writing and acting and Cox, who directed the musical, believes the young woman has the potential to excel at both.

"She'll do well . . . I believe Mari-Jo has a very natural sensibility towards the arts and I always tell her that I am very proud of what she has done . . . to have written a musical at the first attempt is pretty amazing. People have tried to write a couple of plays or musicals and they have not been able to accomplish what she has with this one. So I'm looking forward to see what Mari-Jo is going to do," she said.

JohnRose's brother, Mario, recently published his first book.


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