“Ramayana!,” the Mount Madonna School’s annual musical theater production, which is now in its 41st year, will have performances June 6-9 at the Mexican Heritage Theater in San Jose, Calif.
Attendees of all ages can join Hanuman, the monkeys, and Princes Ram and Lakshman as they journey to Lanka in their quest to rescue Princess Sita in this Broadway-caliber production adapted for modern audiences and replete with lively action, dazzling costumes, family humor, and universal life lessons, stated a press release.
With a cast and crew approaching 200, and involving all students – preschool to grade 12 – “Ramayana!” tells the story of Prince Ram and Princess Sita and her abduction by the demon King Ravana. Set to a mix of traditional and contemporary music, the show features an adult choir, musicians, and more than a dozen original, standout songs.
“‘Ramayana!’ has been central to Mount Madonna School since its founding,” said Mary Supriya McDonald, head of the school. “It’s the culmination of months of work during the academic year and is a year-end celebration for our community embracing diversity and creative self-expression. With this show, we carry forward a tradition inspired by Baba Hari Dass (1923-2018) and supported by the Mount Madonna Center. The Ramayana is a timeless classic teaching the universal values of truth, duty, love and service to the greater good.”
Mount Madonna Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences is a residential community and conference center founded in 1978 atop a mountain in Watsonville, Calif. Baba Hari Dass (Babaji), a silent monk, teacher, and practitioner of yoga from India was the founder of the center, which shares a history and mission with the school, and the annual performance of the “Ramayana!” is part of this mission, said the press release.
The well-known tale with origins in India was adapted into a musical by members of the Mount Madonna community in the ‘70s. The original songs, stated the press release, are “part of the American rock musical theater tradition, with echoes of ‘Hair’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ plus a contemporary nod to ‘Hamilton,’ Broadway’s biggest musical in recent decades.”
“Mounting a show that has been part of the fabric of MMS for more than four decades carries with it the importance of tradition as well as the benefits of familiarity,” commented faculty member Sampad Kachuck, currently in his 36th year directing the production. “Some students have participated since they were in preschool. Although new songs, script changes and technical aspects are often inserted, the form stays mainly the same. As we approach a new year of ‘Ramayana!,’ our purpose is not to merely re-create what has been done in the past, as brilliant as those productions and characterizations may have been. Instead, the true value of the endeavor lies in our willingness to be present, engaged, and, within our dynamic collaboration, open to new discovery.”
Indeed, the directors guide and give structure, but more importantly, said the school, their mission is to “enable and set an inviting table for young actors to instill their own creativity, imagination, and ownership of their parts, and their play.”
“Ramayana!,” added the school, is an “emblematic example of theater as community. The development of theatrical skills and strengthening of confidence to be bold in presentation are woven into the directing team’s time with the students.”
The current version of the show features choreographed fight scenes, monkeys and monsters, comedy, deep introspection by many characters, including King Ravana (in his unique ten-headed costume). Also, within the action are rousing choreographed dances from Bharatanatyam to hip- hop as well as plenty of stage combat and spectacle.
The costumes, demon and monkey masks, elaborate sets, props, and monster rigs (such as Kumbhakarna, a 25-foot puppet with a radio-controlled mechanical mouth and eyes) were created by Baba Hari Dass, as well as artisans associated with both the center and the school, according to the press release, which added that every item in the show is a work of handmade art.
“I see ‘Ramayana!’ as a beautiful amalgamation of tradition and community,” said Kachuck. “The power of theater, and of this play in particular, is how it brings all kinds together. On the production end we work side by side and once the performance occurs, each of us as audience or participant can have our own experience, while acknowledging and honoring the efforts of the whole.”