Thursday, October 13, 2011

Noah, the Musical

My husband and I just returned from a bus tour to Branson. The trip was sponsored by an organization of state retirees, and was quite reasonably priced: $600 each for transportation, all breakfasts, three dinners, and tickets to five shows. There was also a winery tour and trips to other area attractions. 

There was also the benefit of not having to do the driving, find a hotel, or research all the shows and decide what to see and then figure out how to get there. The disadvantage of leaving all the planning to someone else was that the show selection was not always what I would have picked. Specifically, it meant that we wound up seeing Noah, the Musical

Noah the Musical is a production of Sight and Sounds Ministry. Sight and Sounds Ministry was founded in 1976 and owns theaters in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Branson, Missouri. The ministry is not affiliated with any church denomination or other organization. According to their website, 

It is our goal to visualize and dramatize Biblical truth through live stage productions - to illustrate truth in the same way that Jesus did, by storytelling. Our desire is that our audience will gain clear understanding and inspiration through these presentations, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and deepen their relationship with our Father through Him.
Statue of lion and lamb. I call it "Saying Grace".

Lobby of Sight and Sound Theater

In some ways, I’m glad I got to see Noah. It’s in its last week, soon to be replaced by Joseph, not to be confused with Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. The performance was packed. I heard there were only three empty seats in the entire theater, which seats 2,000 people. 

The size of the theater led me to be somewhat distracted throughout the entire production. Due to an accident when I was in my teens, I  fear being trapped in a fire. There were maybe fifty people in my row between me and the fire exit, which did not lead directly to the outside, but to the large lobby and from there to the outside. The show included several pyrotechnic displays, which kept me glancing nervously to the exits more often than to the stage. I kept reminding myself that the place must have passed a fire inspection at some point and that the show had been running for five years without incident, but I was happy to be safely outside again when it was all over.

I might have relaxed sooner if the show had been more compelling, but it was not. The acting was competent and the music was forgettable. I think I forgot some of the tunes while they were singing them.  The staging is the real draw of this production. In addition to the pyrotechnics, there is the sheer size of the stage. The stage can present sets up to 40 feet high and that wrap around 300 feet. That meant that an almost full-sized ark sat onstage for much of the first act, and that the second act opens with the audience sitting in the ark, as the cast leads live animals to the stage. (Oh, goody, more competition for the fire exits.) Most of the animals, and all of the large ones, like elephants, were animatronics, but there were a good number of live animals, plus two cast members in chimpanzee costumes. The opening to the second act was a truly impressive visual feat. 

Unfortunately, the staging also led to skeptical thinking on the part of at least one viewer, my husband. “You know,” he said in all earnestness, “You can just look at that boat and see that the center of gravity is much higher than the center of buoyancy.” (He does that during science fiction movies, too. “Willing suspension of disbelief” was not a concept taught in his high school.) I suspect that even if you don’t know what a center of gravity and center of buoyancy are, if you’ve ever seen ships on a river or even watched a few episodes of The Love Boat, you’d know there was something wrong with the design of the ark. Not that I see that as a problem. I didn’t critique the ship design watching Jason and the Argonauts in my youth, and I didn’t see it as the point of the Noah story, either. I was perfectly willing to accept Noah, the Musical as a retelling of a beloved Bible tale, not as a history lesson. 

The Sight and Sound people, however, see Noah as a history lesson. They did admit up front that they added episodes and characters that were not in the biblical account. The musical ends with the ark changing into a cross while the announcer tells the audience that Jesus is the Safe Ark for us. An actor playing Jesus appears to quote Bible verses, including the one about “In my Father’s house there are many mansions”.

That is the major problem I had with this production of Noah. Throughout the entire story, we learn how different Noah is from the other people of his day.  He and his family continue to worship Jehovah while all their relatives and neighbors have abandoned him. His insistence on building the ark leads everyone else to reject his family as peculiar. At one point the eldest son asks, “Why do we have to be so different?” and Noah breaks into forgettable song explaining why.

It’s true that some of the added episodes involve Noah trying to get his friends and relatives to join his family on the boat, and them rejecting his offers. For the most part, though, the production emphasizes how different Noah and his family are from those mocking unbelievers. So to get from that to “In my Father’s house there are many mansions”, well, I don’t know how you get from that to “In my Father’s house there are many mansions”. There may be a way you can tell the Noah story and do just that, but this wasn’t it.

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