Over the course of the performances of Paul The Musical held in the University Cultural Centre Jun 26-28, Timothy Wong helped more than 5,000 people get to know Paul as a man. He was assisted by fellow lead actor Brandon Yuen, who played the part of Barnabas, and Jurane Solano, who narrated the story through the eyes of the fictional character Miriam.
“I hoped it’d be a spiritual experience to get me started,” said Timothy, so he auditioned for the role of the lead character Paul and got it, probably because “I’m loud enough”, which is important for any theatrical production.
Confessing that he was an extrovert who could not sit still and do nothing, Timothy said he found it easy to memorise the songs as he liked them. What was challenging was getting the audience to understand the message of the songs.
The essence of the musical was that Paul is “just like any normal human being when he was alive”, said Timothy, who had spent weeks getting into character. Through in-character reflections, he worked with another cast member Peter Lin to help the rest of the cast to enter the spiritual journey of Paul throughout the seven scenes of the musical.
“I got to understand him better as a man,” said Timothy, adding that Paul was “a very confident, driven person... a mission-oriented person who was not afraid to speak his mind”. But, like any other normal human person, Paul was “conflicted”. “He was doubtful of himself all the way, even though he appeared sure of himself. His questions, these were questions I asked myself along the way,” said Timothy.
The experience of working in a musical of this scale for the Church has “deepened my perspective of faith” and transformed what was previously just knowledge of the faith into real experience, said Timothy. He related an incident that took place shortly after the production wrapped up.
The cast had written notes of affirmation for one another. When Timothy sat down to read the notes given to him, the first one he read was from 13-year-old John Leong, one of the youngest cast members. It read: “You are such a great actor and singer. I want to be like you when I grow up.”
Rather than letting it get to his head, the note helped Timothy to realise that the role he played was more than about playing a character in the Bible; it was playing the role of being “an instrument of God” to touch another person’s life.
As for Timothy, the person who most touched his life in the course of the musical was Brandon Yuen, the man who played the role of Barnabas, Paul’s companion on his missionary journeys.
Like Timothy, Brandon is a parishioner of St. Ignatius. Though they had seen each other around the parish before, they did not get to know each other until they worked together in the musical.
For our interview, the clean-shaven 32-year-old wore a black T-shirt that read “I’m in shape; Round is a shape”. The self-deprecating message on his t-shirt accurately reflected Brandon’s jovial personality.
“I’m not a serious person,” said Brandon, an engineer, but the journey he went through in the course of the musical said otherwise.
Just one month into the rehearsals, Brandon’s wife of two years was diagnosed with leukaemia. “I was very emotional that day,” recalled Brandon. “When everyone [in the cast] found out, everyone was very supportive. It was an intense point for me. In a funny way, I think God wanted me to be here, because of all the wonderful people to support me.”
His wife has been responding well to chemotherapy treatment, and her road to recovery is “on track”. “It was very important for me to come for rehearsals, otherwise I could have gone mad [without the emotional support],” he said.
It was this support that Brandon received that enabled him to better play the role of Barnabas who, in the life of Paul, was frequently the Apostle’s source of emotional support, particularly during his lowest point of time after his conversion experience.
For Brandon, his greatest challenge in the musical was singing. “I used to go for karaoke, and thought that I could sing. But when I came here, no one could hear me. I had problems with voice projection and holding a note,” he chuckled. His understudy and reserve Hwang Eu Jin, who had been voice-trained before and had acted in past productions, coached Brandon in vocal techniques and that “gave me more confidence”.
His journey through the musical has reminded him that “in my lowest times, God will send his angels to lift me up, like in the Footprints poem”.
Footprints (or Footprints in the Sand) is a poem which describes a dream in which the person is walking on a beach with God. They leave two sets of footprints in the sand behind them, representing the various stages of the person’s life. At the person’s lowest moments in life, the two sets of footprints dwindle to one, leading the person to believe that God has abandoned His follower. God reveals to the person that it is during the times of trial and suffering, when there is only one set of footprints, it was then that God carried the person.
With Brandon’s role in the musical concluded, he told CatholicNews that he intended to spend more time with his wife, “doing the things that we have put off for years because of work”.
One of the voices which impressed members of the audience was that of Jurane Solano, who played the fictional character of Miriam. Jurane, 19, is Filipino. “Made and produced in the Philippines, packaged in Singapore,” she quipped, adding that she has lived in Singapore since she was four years old.
The St. Mary of the Angels parishioner wowed audiences on Jun 26 and 27 which were the nights she performed. In the last week of rehearsals leading up to the performances, Jurane faced a big problem – how to keep up with rehearsals and audition for Singapore Idol at the same time.
Jurane has since acquired her ‘Golden Ticket’ after passing the round of judges. Due to agreements with MediaCorp, she could not reveal anymore. Even before the third season of Singapore Idol airs on television, Jurane already has a fan page on Facebook with 160 fans.
“I’m not a very godly person,” she revealed, “but I see God manifested strongly in community, and this musical has a sense of community that I’ve never seen anywhere else. It feels good just to attend Mass with this group of people. It has taught me that a parish should feel like that as a community.”
Jurane, who as a child used to feel connected with God, frequently singing aloud in praise of God spontaneously, said that she lost that connection while growing up. But on Jun 27, the last night of her performance, just before going on stage, she prayed that God would use her as a vessel to touch people’s hearts through her singing.
Then something happened, and she felt reconnected with God. “It’s something I’ve never felt in years,” she said. “I broke down just before going on stage.”
The experience helped her to realise that God is calling her to touch the lives of people through her singing. “I will still continue to sing in the 12.30pm choir at my parish,” she said.
By Daniel Tay