Sing-along saint: Showbiz world gets papal inspiration

Sing-along saint: Showbiz world gets papal inspiration

Pope John Paul II's extraordinary life is being set to music in Rome, with audiences enjoying a flourish of theatre shows about the former playwright and future saint ahead of his canonisation.

Highlights like his famous meeting with his would-be assassin Ali Agca in 1983 and his famous phrase "Be not afraid!" have become modern dance numbers and jaunty tunes in an unusual cocktail of piety and showbiz.

Nuns and priests were out in force at a performance of "Karol Wojtyla: The True Story" -- one of at least three pope-linked productions in the Eternal City.

Backstage, 26-year-old actor Virgilio Brancaccio donned a cardinal costume and rehearsed his lines as he prepared for his star role as the Polish pontiff.

"The hardest thing for me was combining his strong charisma with a great gentleness and purity," said Brancaccio, who plays Wojtyla as a young man in a plot that ends with his Vatican election in 1978.

"We know his papacy but we don't really know what he was like as an adolescent and a young man," said Brancaccio, a television actor and former participant in the Italian version of the talent show X Factor.

In the audience, a smiling Sister Carmela from the Daughters of St Anne congregation was thrilled. "We're already praying a lot and it's been a great gift to see this before the canonisation!" she said.

"I passed the theatre and saw the poster and I was immediately drawn to it because I knew the pope well. He blessed me when I was a student!"

The musical features songs composed by Israeli singer Noa and premiered in Krakow, where Wojtyla was archbishop for many years, with the pope's longtime friend Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz in attendance.

Wojtyla was born in 1920 and took up theatre in the 1930s when he was a student of languages at the Jagellonian University in Krakow, performing in various productions and writing plays even during World War II.

In the run-up to the canonisation, the French seminary in Rome has staged a production of a play written by Wojtyla entitled "Our God's Brother" about the life of Polish painter-turned-monk, Saint Adam Cmielowski.

Wojtyla was ordained in 1946 and went on to become one of the longest-serving popes in history, who was credited with helping to bring down communism in Europe.

Father Giuseppe Spedicato, the author of a second musical in Rome about Wojtyla, said his theatrical background prepared him well for the papacy.

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