Llettesha Sylvester on becoming Mahalia Jackson

This month, theatre production company JCS Entertainment Ltd. (JCS Ent) will be bringing back a double-feature of Broadway musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and Tom Stolz’s Mahalia: A Gospel Musical, in a promotion called, ‘Spectacular September’.

 These two encore performances are scheduled to hit the stage at the Queen’s Hall Auditorium, starting with Mahalia: A Gospel Musical opening from this Friday 9th to Sunday 18th September and then Jesus Christ Superstar opening from Friday 23rd September to Sunday 2nd October 2016.

Break-out vocal star, Llettesha Sylvester will be returning to the role of adult Mahalia Jackson.

mahalia2016“I was excited because since last year people kept asking me when the show was coming back and I didn’t know what to tell them,” laughed Sylvester as she sat for interview after rehearsal at the YMCA, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain facility where the cast is currently engaged in final rehearsals.

 Review – Since I Attended ‘Mahalia- A Gospel Musical’ I Haven’t Stopped Singing Its Praises

Sylvester is an award-winning classical and gospel vocalist with an Artist Diploma in Music Performance from the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). She has completed her Grade 5 Theory of Music Exams from the Associated Board for the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) and also holds a distinction in Grade 8 Practical singing also from the ABRSM.

“I was nervous because I’ve had to learn all these monologues all over again,” she confessed.

In spite of the nerves, the preparation to refresh the role has been smooth sailing for Sylvester, as evidenced by her rehearsal work with Director Raymond Choo Kong. She has also been supporting singer/actress Nataki Lendor of Point Fortin, with whom she will be sharing the role.

One of Sylvester’s major challenges in preparing for the 2016 edition of this musical, has been reconnecting emotionally with the character of adult Mahalia Jackson after a year of doing her own thing.

And what a year Sylvester has had. After the 2015 run of Mahalia: A Gospel Musical, she launched herself as an independent artiste, starting with an audience-packed, full-length concert performance at Fiesta Plaza Movie Towne and on to many other solo performances.

She also explored her jazzy side becoming a featured member of the Dean Williams Quartet, shining as the group’s only female member and lead vocalist. Sylvester travelled with the band to the Jazz Artists on the Greens 2016, Tobago Jazz Experience and the St. Lucia Jazz Festival of 2016.

Returning to the role of Mahalia Jackson required Sylvester to once more center herself in her Gospel roots and reach deep within to find the meaningful parallels between her and Jackson’s lives.

Llettesha Sylvester as Mahalia Jackson
Llettesha Sylvester as Mahalia Jackson

“Having to pour your whole heart and soul into the role requires you to find yourself in that place again, to be vulnerable and open to sharing all of that with people,”

said Sylvester.

She also admitted to finding new spaces in the role through which to channel Mahalia, from Jackson’s young adult life, through the trials of rising to Gospel stardom and then her eventual decline.

“Although we did the show twenty-five times, (Raymond and I) are seeking out the nuances, making a couple tweaks and finding the magic in the detail. I am seeing little things I can express that will come across differently for the viewing audience.”

As a vocalist, Sylvester is known for her musicality and sincerity, never performing the same vocal arrangement twice, which made every night of the last JCS Ent run of the musical a unique and different experience for each audience.

Review | Mahalia: A Gospel Musical – a soul shaking, spine tingling experience

While Sylvester is a Soprano vocalist, her interpretation of Jackson’s deep resonating Contralto pitch was a particular hit with fans of the last edition of the musical.

She confessed that in order to bring out the heart-wrenching “realness” of her performance, she had to find connections between her life and Jackson’s. She found them in almost every single scene.

“That is what made the tears real and made the story real to me because I was able to tell it in a way that I deeply understood. I could imagine what she was going through at those points in her life – every time she dropped to her knees, or cried, or went through some life-changing experience, I could identify with it, because it was real for me too.”

For Sylvester, Mahalia was an inspiration even in her struggles.

“She came from nothing and nowhere and even during her life, she still struggled with confidence issues and self-esteem. She always wondered if she was good enough, or if people were seeing and understanding her mission as a Gospel singer. It’s about understanding your worth and seeking out that strength from God, which gives you the extra push to go on stage and deliver.”

“Mahalia’s story is important because it has made such a huge impact on so many vocalists across Gospel-singing generations. This is a production that needs to be seen not only by “church people”, or music lovers but by people in general.”

See other Features and Reviews of Mahalia a Gospel Musical 


For the nine shows of Mahalia: A Gospel Musical, there will be two Sunday matinee shows (11th and 18th) which will begin at 6 p.m. Patrons will also have the option of three weekday shows (13th, 14th, 15th) to indulge in a ‘Tea and Musicals’ special afternoon matinee from 2 p.m.  There will be two Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m. (9th – 10th and 16th and 17th).

To see Llettesha Sylvester once more take the stage as Mahalia Jackson in JCS Ent’s Mahalia: A Gospel, get tickets at the Queen’s Hall Box Office or contact JCS Ent at jcsentertains.tt@gmail.com or call 488-2330 or 620-2244 for more details on both ‘September Spectacular’ shows.


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