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 on Sunday.
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.