SAN JOSE, Calif. — Mount Madonna School performed its 40th annual “Ramayana!” musical to a sold-out audience June 7-10 at the Mexican Heritage Theater here.
Through a spectacular display of talent and creativity and a run time of three hours, Valmiki’s 2000-year-old epic came to life with a modern twist and wit.
“Ramayana!” is a way of life for Mount Madonna School. It is the last theatrical performance before the school lets out for the summer break.
With almost 190 students in the cast, ranging from preschool to 12th grade, and around 300 parent and alum volunteers, putting on this extravaganza is no minor feat.
As the musical director of the play, Sampad Kachuk, who has directed the musical for the past 35 years, described so eloquently: “No matter the difficulties of the artistic journey, year after year I am indelibly moved at the commitment and willingness from youngest to old to make this play come to life. In the continuing paradoxical balance between product and process, the ‘Ramayana!’ never ceases to fill me with the sense of community, the brilliant epicenter of the whole endeavor.”
“Ramayana!” is a phenomenon that never ceases to startle and fill me with awe no matter how many years I participate,” he added.
Painstaking hard work was apparent in every aspect of the play. The breathtaking costumes, the handmade masks, the larger than life props, the lifelike performances, the choreography, the professional level makeup, the choir, and the live band makes one forget that this is a high school play. It could well be a Broadway play.
The musical started with a welcome note by the head of the school, Mary Supriya McDonald. She thanked the sponsors and the volunteers for making this performance possible.
The epic is narrated by Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati. They take viewers through the life journey of Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya; starting from his wedding with Princess Sita to his consequent exile to the forest for 14 years, therein Sita’s abduction by the powerful king of Lanka, Ravana, and eventually the defeat of Ravana by Rama. It shows a victory of good over evil. An old tale retold in a way that appeals to the youngest of audience. There is a role for each student of the school in the musical, and each student takes his/her role very seriously.
Carl Ward, a 12th grader who is playing the role of Rama, told India-West: “It’s fun to be a hero of a story and ‘Ramayana!’ has been a tradition of my life. It’s weird knowing this will be my last one but it’s a good way to go out. For the seniors there’s always tears at the end of the last show knowing this would be their last ‘Ramayana!’”
“The energy of the musical was bigger than ever, maybe because it is the 40th performance. There has been a lot of enthusiasm,” McDonald told India-West.
She credited the success and the continuation of the play for the past four decades to not only the school community but also the larger community – parents, volunteers, alums and sponsors. She mentioned that there are families which have been engaged with this play for three generations.
“It bridges cultures, bridges East and West,” she added.
The musical was attended by many noteworthy guests. Consul General of India in San Francisco Venkatesan Ashok attended the musical and then proceeded to send out a written statement congratulating the 40th anniversary of the show.
Watsonville Mayor Lowell Hurst presented Mount Madonna School with a proclamation on the 40th anniversary of the play. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo sent a letter of commendation on the 40th performance of the epic while Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco also attended the performance.
As Sampad reminded his cast at the cast circle before they went on stage that they were one community, the community of “Ramayana!” so to be kind to each other: “Be big, be bold and enjoy the process,” he said. And so, they did with another successful show of “Ramayana!”