Tag Archives: musical

To love another person is to see the face of God

Les-MiserablesI have seen Les Mis live four times, including yesterday afternoon. The first three times were on grand stages in Peoria, Saint Louis, and Chicago with touring Broadway casts. It is a story of grace and salvation that needs to be told, and it is a story that my heart longs to hear over and over.  Seeing Les Mis is a sacramental experience for me.  It at the same time convicts and uplifts me.  It reminds me of the stark cruelty of the world and of the sublime beauty that lies within us. The music, the power, the triumph, and emotion of it is something I crave like a cold glass of milk after an oreo.

Every time I see it, I have to resist the urge to sing along for the sake of those sitting next to me.    Every time I see it,  I laugh at the Thenardiers raunchy jokes.  Every time I see it, I shed a tear for the plight of Fantine and bristle at the cruelty of the world.  Every time Is see it, I am inspired by Valjean’s integrity, and lament Javert’s misplaced idea of duty. The tears have come every time that Gabrach is shot, and I ache for Eponine as she sings “On My Own,” as I remember the unrequited loves of my own youth.  They come again when Eponine dies, and I hang on the director’s decision to let them kiss before her last breath or not.  Since having daughters of my own, the tears have found new outlets, like when young Cosette begs to not go into the dark.  They come strongest now when Valjean sings “She was never mine to keep,” as he sees Cosette and Marius wed.

Every time I see it, I leave emotionally exhausted.  Yesterday afternoon was no exception.  The performance I witnessed was not as polished or grand as the others that I have seen.  The actors were not Broadway stars, and the stage and set was not in a world class theater.  It was in a re-purposed building, with simple costumes, a sparse set, and young actors.  Yes, young actors.  The oldest performers were 16.

centerI saw Les Mis at the Center For Living Arts.  It was directed by Dino and Tina Hayz.  The cast had three weeks from their first rehearsal to their first showtime.  In those three weeks, the rehearsed five days a week for 8 hours a day.  The youth at The Center are talented, but the show was not great because they blew me away with their singing.  The show was great because they poured themselves into it.  They captured the emotion and the passion that is needed to pull off a show as big as Les Mis.

Though I cringed a few times because of the adult-oriented themes, like when the brilliant Madame and Master  Thenardier sang their raunchy songs, or when the cast of young teenagers sang “Lovely Ladies,” there was something about their raw youth that made it even more real.  The performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” by a very young Fantine was one of the best performances of that song I have ever seen.  I realized that the young girl singing was probably about the same age as a “real” Fantine would have been.  The harsh truth is that many of the sexual slaves of the era – and even today – are but young teenagers.  The youthful exuberance of the students in the taverns, willing to die for their cause took on a higher level of tragedy.  The love story of Cosette and Marius seemed more authentic than usual, as I’ve always felt the love-at-first-sight story seemed a little contrived when it was adults playing the roles.  Eponine’s “On My Own,” was as emotional as any I’ve witnessed as it was sung with a forlorn wistfulness than only a teenager can make believable.

By the time the whole cast came out to sing the finale, I was ready to stand and join them beyond the barricade.  The final vision, which is the Kingdom of God where even Javert can find the redemption he was never able to offer, is one that puts goosebumps on my arms and fills me with hope.   As I watched the group of young people stand and sing, I was filled with awe.

I have worked with Dino and Tina before.  I have witnessed what they can do with people with willing hearts.  All I can say about them is that they work magic.  Absolute magic.

Les Mis has long been my favorite musical.  Miss Saigon has always been my second-favorite.  I heard that the Center is considering it for next summer.  It will be an even taller task than Les Mis, but I can already see the Master of the House as The Engineer.  If anyone can pull it off, it is Dino and Tina.

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You are the light of the world.

Part Two of my story of Godspell. Read part one here.

Click here to go to the full sermon, where I talk about our experience with Godspell, called “You are the Light of the World.”  From 11:30-20:00, I talk more extensively about the salt and the light as found in Matthew 5:13-14.

Our Riverside UMC "Godspell" cast

Our Riverside UMC “Godspell” cast

“You are the light of the world,” I sang. And then I went home and reflected on the amazing thing we had just done. Godspell had forever changed me, but in the hours after the show I don’t think I had any idea just how much.

“You are the light of the world,” we all sang. Dino Hayz, director of the Center for Living Arts and our Jesus, went out into the audience. He grabbed someone and had them stand up so we could all sing to that one particular person, “You are the salt of the earth.” Then quickly to another man he dashed. He got him to stand up so we could point to him and sing, “You are the city of God.” Finally, he found one last woman. She was sitting near the back, and we sang one more time, “You are the light of the world.”

It was the last song before intermission. We left the sanctuary rocking. We were half way home, and we all sensed that things were going well. None of our rehearsals suggested that the show would go as smoothly as it had been. At the end of the show, after singing the beautiful refrain “We can build a beautiful city, yes we can. Yes we can. We can build a beautiful city. Not a city of angels, but finally a city of man,” I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

After the show a woman approached me. She told me that she had a great time. She loved the music, and she was so glad she could come. For years, she told me, she had a Playbill from the original Broadway production. She also had an album she had never played. For years she had kind of wondered what Godspell was, and when she saw us in the paper, she decided on a whim to come check it out. I told her how happy I was that she was there, and invited her to come again to worship with us.

The next day I was talking to our head usher about what a great experience the show was. We were marveling at the amount of people that came, and how many people came that were not a part of our church. I told him about the woman I talked to after the show, and he quickly realized that he knew who I was talking about.

“Yeah, I was talking to her at intermission. She seemed like she was looking for something, and I wanted to help her. I saw her and said, ‘You are the light of the world,’ she was one of the people that you guys sang to when Dino got her to stand up.'”
She kind of laughed when I said that,” Tom told me. “And then she said, ‘No one has ever called me that before.'”

I got goosebumps when he told me that, and I thanked Tom for telling me about their exchange. Then I went back into my office and was overwhelmed. Something washed over me that I can only describe as the Holy Spirit as I prayed “Thank you God.” Tears started to flow, and my efforts at standing became feeble. I literally fell to my knees in tears as I was struck at once with an overwhelming sense of awe, wonder, sadness, joy, and purpose. “No one has ever called me that before,” she said.

There were so many moments that made Godspell a memorable experience. If it were not for Tom’s story, I would have counted it as a great memory. I would have remembered the impromptu rehearsals in the kitchen with my wife and daughter as we sang and danced together. I would have remembered Molly gently nudging me into the right place so I was ready to be one of the priests in the Good Samaritan parable. I would have remembered the prayer we shared before the show. I would have remembered hugging Dino during the farewell song, and whispering to him. “Thank you, brother.” With or without that conversation with Tom I would have relished in the glow of accomplishing something as a team.

After hearing the story of the woman that had never been told that she was the light of the world though, I had something more.

“You are the light of the world,” is not just a catchy line in a pretty song in an upbeat musical.
“You are the light of the world,” are Jesus’ words to his followers. They are words from what we call The Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 5-6. It is a small part of Jesus’ dissertation about what it means to live in this world.

“You are the light of the world.” It is a claim on those that had gathered. It is an assurance of what Jesus’ followers are, and what they shall be.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said so long ago.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus declares today. You.

So let your light so shine. There is a light that is within you that is good. There is a light within you that is of God. There is a light within you that needs to be seen. I think for a moment of the children in this world that have never been told that they are the light of anyone’s world, and it breaks my heart. I think for a moment of people stuck in abusive relationships, allowing their light to be crushed, and I want to scream. I think for a moment of youth that want only to hide and be as invisible as possible so as not to draw anyone’s attention, and it kills me to know that they have never been told, “You were created in the very image of God. The light that God created at the very moment of creation. That is in you. Hear Jesus crying to you, ‘You are the light of the world.'”

That little musical gave me a lot of things. It gave me memories. It gave me friendships. It gave me knowledge about myself. And it gave me a renewed sense of purpose. It gave me a way to think about my mission as a follower of Christ.
I will strive to never allow another man, woman, or child pass me by without letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that they are the light of the world.

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I love it when a plan comes together

PART ONE of my story about GODSPELL
My wife and I during rehearsal.  In the show, this became one of the little bits of magic onto which I will forever hold.  Every time we rehearsed this, 'Jesus' cuts in and stops us from dancing.  And I was supposed to say, "Yeah, but she's so, so..."  Every time in rehearsal, I said something different to end that line.  Nothing I tried ever felt right.  Then during the show, I looked at her and our eyes met, and my heart melted again, and I finished my line perfectly "she's an angel."

My wife and I during rehearsal. In the show, this became one of the little bits of magic which I will forever cherish. Every time we rehearsed this, ‘Jesus’ cuts in and stops us from dancing. And I was supposed to say, “Yeah, but she’s so, so…” Every time in rehearsal, I said something different to end that line. Nothing I tried ever felt right. Then during the show, I looked at her and our eyes met, and my heart melted again, and I finished my line perfectly “she’s an angel.”

I messed up my line every time in rehearsal.  I only had two lines, and mine was the first line of the song.  There was no warm-up.  No lead-in.  No chance to find my way in the song.  No chance to start slow and pick up momentum.  It was just cue music, grab mic, and sing.  Sing.

I’ve held a mic on “stage” before hundreds of times.  I’ve given sermons, speeches, toasts, and prayers in front of large crowds and small gatherings.  I’ve even sung in front of people before, but always as a member of a choir.  I had not been nervous in a church in years.  Yet I knew my line was coming.  From the moment the previous song started I was already thinking about it. My turn to clutch that mic and sing was coming.

Every time in rehearsal I had messed it up.  I came in late.  Or I was way off key.  Or I botched the wording.  Up until the show I was ‘ofer.’  I should have been terrified.  It thought I was going to be terrified, but here’s the crazy thing, when it came time for my two-line solo, I wasn’t nervous.  I sang it.  “You are the light of the world,” I said as I pointed to one of the people in the audience.  And then the ensemble came in behind me  “You are the light of the world.”  I felt good, so I kept going.  I don’t know if I was off-key or not.  I knew at this point the only mistake I could make was to hold back.  “But if that light’s under a bushel, it’s lost something kind of crucial,” I sang. And for a moment, if only in my mind, I was Donnie Osmond as Joseph or Michael Crawford as the Phantom.  I was hooked.

A few months ago I sat in a coffee shop and met with the Director of the Center for Living Arts, Dino Hayz.  The Center is one of those little gems you find in old cities.  It is not a big theater, but it has a lot of heart.  Focusing mostly on youth theater, the Center specializes in doing quality shows quickly.  Before there was a Center though, there was Dino and his wife and friends that put together a company to do Godspell in churches.  They have been doing Godspell in churches for over ten years.  They consider it their life’s ministry to spread the message of love and community that is a part of Godspell to as many people as possible.  “It’s not so much a musical,” he explained to me, as it is an experience.  “I want people to experience Christ’s love through what is happening all around them.”

We sat together and talked about an idea.  It was an idea hatched by our children’s minister months (years?) before.  What if we did Godspell together at our church?  What could we create if we took a few of the experienced members of Dino’s company, and did Godspell with the talented and willing people from our church?  What if, instead of them doing Godspell at our church, we did it together with our church?

I left that lunch knowing that we were embarking on something good.  I had no idea just how magnificent it would become.

On the day of our placement auditions, I wondered who would come.  On the first night it was clear that we had created something special.  20 people came.  There were two kindergartners, a handful of junior high and senior high youth.  There were a couple of adults who had never been in a show before.  There were a few remarkably talented singers.  There was a senior member of our church choir, and regular singer from our praise band.  We ranged in age from 5-65(ish).  We were men and women, boys and girls.  Some brought members of their family in the journey with them, others came with friends.  Some came eagerly.  Some came only because they were dragged, almost literally, from other tasks.  We were scared, excited, and willing.

We supported each other.  As each person took turns singing a few lines a capella from a song of their choice  we cheered.  At least one youth simply had someone standing next to her for support, so she wouldn’t have to stand alone.  The truth was, none of us were alone.  On the very first night we were creating the community that Godspell is about.  From moment one, we were living the musical.  On that night, each one of us put a pebble in our shoe and called it “dare.”

They say live theater gets in your blood.  People talk about it in the same way they talk about addiction.  Intellectually, I accepted that it must be true, but until the word “crucial” left my lips, I had never experienced anything like it.  

Being a part of this production Godspell changed me.  I’m not even sure how exactly yet.  I know I want to be a in another musical.  I know that I want to have that 10-minutes-to-showtime excitement again.  I know that I want to have that it’s-almost-my-line sense of calm confidence again.   I want to look out into an audience and see their smiles, read their expressions, bask in their gripped silence.  I want to look into the eyes of a cast member in the midst of another show and whisper, “we’re really doing it,” with the same mix of fun and terror that I had last Saturday.  I want to put my arms around a group of friends after a show well done.  I want to crash into bed, emotionally spent, and dream about the songs I just sang.

When I think about the journey that started with a lunch in a coffee shop in October, and ended on a spring afternoon… Well, I have to stop myself.

This journey is going to keep going.  There are going to be more shows.   There are going to be more rehearsals.  There are going to be more chances to sing about love.  Nothing ended that night.  It turns out that something was sparked.  Relationships have been forged.  Dreams have been shared.  A vision has been caught.  There’s more to come.  The show will go on.

And if you’re looking for a ensemble to “do” Godspell in your church, I know just the group.

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