Return of the prodigal;Subject of the week;Religious Education

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
Elaine Williams visits a Yorkshire comprehensive which is celebrating the millennium with a biblical rock musical

We all like to think that should we really make a mess of our lives, someone, somewhere, and particularly our nearest and dearest, will forgive us and give us a second chance.

Pupils of Greenhead grammar school, a 13-18 comprehensive in Keighley, West Yorkshire, were so moved by the story of the prodigal son that they produced a two-hour musical about it. Odds On is one of tens of thousands of projects being undertaken by more than half the country's schools as part of the JC2000 initiative, a national artsreligious education project relating the life of Jesus to today's world.

Nick Mann, head of performing arts at Greenhead, says his pupils' main task was finding a way to cut the musical down to a 15-20 minute video to be submitted for the JC2000 Yorkshire regional final in March. There are to be national finals at the Albert Hall, London, in June.

From the beginning pupils had been quick to create a contemporary flavour. Set in the American Mid-West, Odds On sees the son, Billy-Jo, quit his father's farm and his fiancee because of his infatuation with a city woman. She encourages him to spend his inheritance on fine clothes and gambling in Slick Vinney's club. His childhood sweetheart, who goes to the city and persuades Billy-Jo to return to his family, saves him from destitution.

"They were sure this should be a story about sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll," says Mr Mann, who wrote the songs, ranging from rhythm 'n' blues, rock 'n' roll and country to Abba, for the show. The performance is fresh and full of vibrant energy. "We've been working on it and changing it after every performance."

"We love it," says Caroline Auty, aged 17. "Everything we've done in it has come from us."

"It's been a long-term ambition," says Mr Mann. "Ever since Jesus Christ Superstar I've wanted to create a biblical musical with the kids here. JC2000 seemed the ideal opportunity."

JC2000 is a national initiative funded by charitable trusts. It has the backing of the Department for Education and Employment as well as the country's religious leaders.

There is no prescription on how passages might be interpreted and teachers and pupils are free to choose whatever stories they like. "There are wonderful projects happening everywhere," says Sheila Bielby, the JC2000 regional manager for Yorkshire, "we have been overwhelmed by the response."

JC2000 the Millennium Arts Festival for Schools, 45 Hazlitt Mews, London W14 OJZ. Tel: 0171 371 3716. Fax: 0171 371 3790. Schools information line: 0870 550 1152

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