Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reflections about...Jonah Performance at Sight & Sound Theatres Tuesday July 31, 2012 at 1 PM

A month ago my younger cousin Michael was up from North Carolina visiting us and so one of the things my aunt planned for us to do together is Sight & Sound Theatres, which is something she had been wanting to do for awhile since her friends from Bible study told her about it a few years ago. Sight & Sound Theatres showcases the stories of the Bible in the form of musical theater. "Where the Bible comes to life" seems to be its motto. Sight & Sound Theatres has two locations: Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Branson, Missouri. Naturally, because it is closer, we went to Lancaster to see Jonah.

This is the outside of the theater. It looks like a palace inside and out!

Jonah is a young prophet in Biblical times whom loves the Lord. One day the Lord gives Jonah a message that greatly troubles him. He wants Jonah to travel to Nineveh to ask the people to repent their sins to gain salvation. However, Jonah does not believe that Nineveh deserves this salvation because they are horrible people and when he was a child they killed his father, so it is personal for him. Jonah runs away from his prophet duties, but God always manages to find him, ultimately using a sea mammal to help Jonah come to his senses.

The Love of God

This just might be the first play I've seen where agape (the unconditional love of God) is the main focus. In other plays, normally the love that carries the plot is romantic love, or perhaps a relationship between family members, but you rarely see a play totally focused on religion, God, and Christianity. Religion and Christianity actually inspired the earlier forms of drama, such as the Wakefield Mystery Plays (which is actually the first thing I learned in my Early English Drama course in my Fall 2011 semester), but as time went on with drama, this trend seemed to no longer be as popular or existent at all. Sight & Sound Theatres seems to be only current theater so far to be trying to "resurrect" this trend in this way and taking it one step further and making musicals out of their interpretations.

The Best Parts

For the Kids
This story is told in musical form and is fit for all ages. What Sight & Sound Theatres does is take a Biblical story and make its own spin on it, adding humorous moments to help tell the story better, some specifically for children. For example, at one point a skunk sprays Jonah because, ahem, sin "stinks." Jonah is sinning because he is running away from God. This is literally written in the program and it literally happens onstage, the animal played by a real live skunk, but of course special effects playing the actual "spray." One of the highlights of Sight & Sound Theatres is it uses live animals in its cast.

Another part that is really cute is when Jonah is on the run and a bunch of kids want to play Hide and Seek with him. Trying to get rid of them, he counts and they all run away to hide, except a young girl. He reveals to her he will not be searching for them, but she replies with something like, "They will forever be lost. How will they be found if you don't search for them?" This symbolically brings up a valid point of the musical, for Jonah must also help the people of Nineveh to no longer be lost.

I never really get the soundtracks of shows as souvenirs, but this time I did. That's how good the music is.

My favorite song, which is one I often play on my iTunes, is the song "The Ocean Sings." I've been using this song as inspiration to write this post. This is the part when Jonah sets sail with a bunch of pirates to further avoid his Godly duty. (Well, they refer to themselves as "sailors" but I call them pirates because to me they all resemble Johnny Depp's "Captain Jack Sparrow" and speak with accents. Plus, calling them "pirates" just makes them sound cooler, which they are. They are some of the best characters in the musical.) I think the reason why I like this song is because it is the one song in the musical that isn't necessarily religious-related. Jonah's mother has a verse praying to God to keep him safe on his voyage, but other than that it is just a song sung by a bunch of "pirates" about what it's like to set sail. This song could be sung in any musical about pirates or sailors and the big blue sea and still work. Another reason is that I have a tendency to enjoy a song sung by a chorus of men more than other types of chorus. It's just a really fun song and it's one of the least emotional ones, because plenty of the songs in this are very heart-wrenching, and I like songs that aren't necessarily going to make me cry.

Another song I really like is "Everyone Has A Nineveh," sung by Jonah's mother once again praying to keep Jonah safe, which always reminds me of Nala's solo "Shadowland" from The Lion King Musical just because of the way it is sung and the subject manner. I know. That's odd, isn't it? Well, maybe not. Both songs talk about how certain locations are giving the characters hardships to overcome and both characters who sing them have hope that they will. What I like about "Everyone Has A Nineveh," other than her voice, is that it speaks so true for everyone in the audience and not one member of said audience can't not relate. Everyone has his or her crosses to bear.

I can't talk about music in this musical without talking about "I'm Free." This is the main song that makes me cry. It is sung by the people of Nineveh (and then Jonah with the Nineveh people) who are grateful for God's grace and the opportunity to reflect on themselves and change for the better, even if their town does not survive. It is a celebration of how when you get closer to God, you feel great about yourself. It is a very beautiful moment and you truly feel the Lord's presence.

The Whale
The whale is the highlight of the musical. I sat in anticipation waiting for the whale scene because we have heard so much about it and how enormous it is. I don't want to give away too much about it because I want you to experience it for yourself, so here's all I will say about it: I kept saying "Oh my God" when it finally made its appearance. The scene with the whale is very intricate because there is no dialogue, for the only character involved with this scene is Jonah, and he doesn't start talking until his is finally swallowed by the whale. As an audience member, you feel like you are underwater and an actual whale is swimming right in front of you. You then feel like you are inside the whale with Jonah! The special effects are amazing!

The whale isn't real (you'll have to see for yourself what it looks like, for I'm not telling! :P), but there is a whole slew of cast members in the animal kingdom that are...

The Animals
Like I said, the animals in this are a highlight of Sight & Sound Theatres and one of the first things my aunt told me about this theater a few years ago, and therefore was one of the main parts I was looking forward to the most.

Normally when animals are incorporated in a theatrical production, they are only kept onstage and don't really do much but walk across the stage. However, the animal cast members of Sight & Sound Theatres walk in the aisles with their human counterparts and do some acting of their own. They know their cues and play along with the scenes very well!

Something That Confused Me

Even though the musical is family friendly and no violence is really incorporated, there is no secret that torture goes on in this world. When Jonah finally gets to Nineveh and delivers God's message that Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days if they do not change their ways, at first the people don't take him seriously. No surprise there. The soldiers go to take Jonah away to blind him, which is something they're accustomed to doing to their enemies, until something very strange happens...

One of the soldiers tells them to stop because he believes Jonah is telling the truth. Why? He "just knows." He literally gives no explanation as to why he believes Jonah. Then he starts praying for forgiveness. The other people of Nineveh suddenly do the same ("Repentance"), eventually leading into the song "39 Days," one of the better songs of the musical.

Here's why this is weird. It happens WAY too fast. The people of the Bible are never this quickly convinced. And the fact that the guy never gives any reason to why he believes Jonah makes it weirder. In the Bible there are always people who need proof, but here they just listen to the one soldier, who does not have any proof nor does he seem to want any himself, and they start praying. If these people are as barbaric as Jonah was making them out to be throughout the entire musical, then this doesn't make sense because they aren't the type of people to totally give in right away.

The scenes with the Nineveh people are the most powerful when it comes to the power of God, and actually quite scary. Not scary in the way that kids will be scarred by it, but more so feeling the tension of being under God's mercy. There is desperation in their tones and you could feel this tension along with them, because this is something to which plenty of people can relate as well. It is the fear of the unknown future and not having any control over it, knowing that a higher power deity that can control anything, does.

However, the coolest part involving the Nineveh people is when Jonah is taken to their king, whom he is told by the soldiers is questioning why all of a sudden his people are praying and he doesn't like it. You think he is going sentence Jonah in some way, but instead he is extremely grateful, preparing to join his people in their prayer. He says that his kingdom has been having issues and he's been praying to all of the gods for help, and the ONLY ONE that responded was Jonah's God.

Now THAT is cool.

The Lobby

You know, I spend a lot of times in the lobbies of theaters, often taking photos of them, but this lobby takes the cake of all theatrical lobbies, so it deserves its own section in this review. It is gigantic and there are a number of gift shops and food stands. In it (and outside of theater as well) blasts music from the show, which got me in the Jonah zone. When I got home I recognized the music of "The Ocean Sings" as one I kept hearing in the lobby. That makes me happy.

Will You Like It? 

Well, that really depends. The musical speaks to a certain demographic and yet it doesn't. If you are religious, particularly Christian, you'll definitely get more out of it than a non-believer. It speaks to believers more because the musical promotes faith in God and Jesus so much and expects its audience to share in the same beliefs. As I was sitting there watching it, I kept wondering if anybody other than that demographic would take it seriously or even feel comfortable watching it.

Then again, if you are a non-believer with an open mind, you just might appreciate it. The musical makes you think about your relationship with God and Jesus more and it might help non-believers to believe considering how positively it portrays the love of God.

One thing we can all agree on is relating to Jonah. As I was watching it, I couldn't help but constantly agree with Jonah on his position in the manner. It is difficult to do good things for those we dislike. We travel the story pretty much in Jonah's shoes and share in the same fear and feelings he is experiencing, for Jonah is a very understandable character. But it's also pretty interesting how judgmental he is. He doesn't realize that his attitude towards Nineveh can be just as sinful.

This is one of my best, most memorable theater experiences of my lifetime. I haven't quite seen anything like this one before. There is more than one set and stage in the theater, so the extensions of the stage makes the experience that much more different and big as well. The following is stated on the website, which pretty much sums it up in a nutshell: "Sight & Sound Theatres is the largest faith-based live theatre in the country and has been described as 'Christian Broadway.'" We were thinking this ourselves, but my aunt and I agree that we believe that it is actually better than Broadway. ;) It is a very phenomenal show and very well done.

You have plenty of time to check it out if you want to share in the Jonah experience! The show runs until December 29, 2012! :)

We're already planning to see Noah next year. ;)

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