John was a 'rare talent'

By David Looby

Published 09/06/2016 | 00:00

The late John Donnelly
The late John Donnelly

ONE of Wexford Light Opera Society's (WLOS) greatest directors was murdered while on holiday in Turkey on Friday.

Award-winning musical theatre director John Donnelly has been directing light opera in Wexford since the early 1990s and had a special affinity with the town.

A bachelor who lived most of his life in Dublin and worked for the Customs Service before retiring some years ago, Mr Donnelly was found dead from what Turkish people say was a single stab wound to his back at an apartment in the resort town of Bodrum on Friday morning. The alarm was raised by neighbours who found a bloodied knife lying outside the building.

Neighbours described Mr Donnelly as a quiet man who had arrived three weeks earlier to stay in the rented apartment at Ney Tevfik Street. He was staying on his own.

Police are studying CCTV images which, they said, showed two men leaving Mr Donnelly's apartment building during the night.

In a statement, Turkish police said Mr Donnelly was lying naked on the floor of his apartment when found on Friday morning. He had a single stab wound, they added.

The police in Bodrum were quoted as saying they hope to make arrests and are expected to issue images from the CCTV outside the apartment building which shows two men leaving the night Mr Donnelly was stabbed.

There was no indication of any Islamist involvement.

The police also said Mr Donnelly's apartment had been ransacked and robbery was a possible motive.

Mr Donnelly's body was sent to the Forensic Medicine Institute in Mugla for a post mortem, which revealed a struggle between the killer and the victim. His funeral is due to take place in Dublin this weekend.

A spokeswoman for the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed they were providing consular assistance.

From Dublin, John, or JD as he was known to his WLOS cast and crew, was holidaying in Bodrum, Turkey, having directed the hugely successful Evita in April, when he was the victim of the attack.

The 64-year-old was involved with musical theatre on and off stage since the 1970s. He was the most nominated musical theatre director ever in the country and directed nine successful shows with WLOS.

WLOS PRO Pat Lawlor said: 'We heard the news late on Friday night and we are all absolutely devastated. We had just finished Evita and had packed houses. Everyone said during the week that if that was his last show with us it was a brilliant one.'

Mr Donnelly's first WLOS show was Showboat in 1994.

WLOS Chairman Colin Murphy said; 'John was John. When he arrived in 1994 he was a bit different at the time as we were used to Sean Meyler and local directors and he arrived from Dublin with a reputation. He directed Chess in 1997 when won the best show in the country at the Association of Irish Musical Societies awards, returning in 1998 to direct Oklahoma and the Man of La Mancha the following year which both won best show.'

He directed The Hired Man in 2000, returning in 2013 to direct the hugely successful Witches of Eastwick which won Best Show.

He directed Sister Act in 2014, Chess in 2015 and Evita in 2016.

Mr Murphy said: 'John would commute down during rehearsals and stay in town for the week before the show and during the first few nights of the show. As a stage manager he was a real dream to work with. He had a real technical head and was nearly like a set designer. He knew all aspects of theatre and had a great vision of what he wanted. He had a big picture vision with big chorus scenes and set detail being his specialities.'

Mr Murphy said Mr Donnelly has left a fantastic legacy with WLOS, among many other musical theatre groups.

'If you were to look at what WLOS has become we have a great history and you can talk about Des Corish, Fr John O'Brien and Ned Power and John Donnelly has joined that list of great WLOS directors. He was a real powerhouse.'

He said John had a playful sense of humour.

Mr Lawlor said the director was involved in fantastic productions in the old Theatre Royal.

A passionate theatre man, his talents were always in demand.

He recalled Mr Donnelly's fantastic work on the rock opera Chess.

'We did an electrified show with Fr Johnny and we never got to the second act in rehearsals and we were opening the following night. Everyone was petrified but everything went off perfectly. He always delivered.'

He said Mr Donnelly would always speak his mind.

'He had a great sense of humour. He had a reputation but his bark was worse than his bite. He loved his buns and sweets in rehearsals. Second rate wasn't ever good enough (for John). He was very proud of Evita and we had never done it before and we have five nominations for it and may be in the running for Best Overall Show, the winner of which will be announced at the Aims awards later this month. It would be very fitting if his show won it.'

Mr Lawlor said Mr Donnelly absolutely loved Wexford. He said Mr Donnelly also loved holidaying in Turkey.

'He went to Turkey having worked on the show for several months. He congratulated everyone on Facebook after the nominations. He was great gas on Facebook and the Eurovision was a big favourite of his. He was a really lovable character and will be sorely missed here.'

Describing Mr Donnelly as a rare talent, Mr Lawlor said he raised the level of numerous musical theatre groups around the country, adding that he heavily involved in musical theatre in Dublin and in Waterford.

A large crowd of his cast and crew from WLOS are expected to travel to his funeral, which is due to take place in Dublin later this week.

Wexford People

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