acting, artistic vision, audience, broadway, christian, christian blog, christian theater, critics, directing, entertainment, family, hope, theater

Crusade: The Musical and What I Learned About Theater From It

The tag line reads:

“A modern musical about the historical events and relationships that helped shape Billy Graham’s faith as he became the most iconic evangelist in the world.”

(Sadly, I have searched for the author/composer’s name and cannot find it. They announced it at the performance Sunday evening, but I thought it would be on my program so I didn’t pay attention. I am deeply regretting that. I also wished I had stayed  after the show and asked more questions. If this musical was a part of a residency program I probably would be  a little softer in my review. My encouragement to this group would be to publicize those details…maybe there is a financial backer or someone who wants to produce your musical that is trying to get in contact with you.)

Years ago, I heard Karen Kingsbury speak. I have followed her blog ever since. In July, she wrote a blog about the passing of time and how the clock stops for no one. She went on to say she had been watching Crusade: The Billy Graham Musical and was struck with the fact that a” blink ago Billy Graham was young and preaching and now he is gone. Just like we will be one day.”

I loved the points she was making, but more than that I was fascinated that there was a new musical out about Billy Graham! After research, I realized that it was performing very close to where one of my daughters lives…and with great anticipation I bought tickets.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I found.

I was expecting a big venue. Why? Karen Kingsbury’s son-in-law (Kyle Kupecky) and daughter (Kelsey Kupecky) were the leads. Kyle is a singer that has actually toured with Mercy Me and together with Kelsey has authored the book “The Chase.” My preconceived ideas  decided this musical was going to be in a big venue, with hundreds of people attending per night. Stars plus subject matter? It’s a win-win.

When we arrived we pulled into a small parking lot that held perhaps 100 cars….I think that is stretching it, but…maybe.

We walked into the lobby and discovered that to get to the performing space we had to walk up a curved staircase. When we entered the theater area I realized this small space, that might have seated 100, was packed and literally had no empty chairs. One of the workers gave up three seats that she had saved for her family saying, “It’s okay, we’ve all seen it.” Hmmmm. Did  they oversell the show? Why were there no seats?

As the show begin we were seriously blown away by the projection and the graphic design. It was vivid, always in motion and brightly conveyed the scenes of the play as it progressed through Billy’s life. Many of the actors played multiple characters moving through the timeline of his life.

The music was loud. I don’t want to sound like a fuddy-duddy, but I really like to understand the words to the songs that the actors were so  passionately singing, but I couldn’t always hear them. One of my costumers also attended with me and was bothered by small details, like no flash bulbs in the prop cameras. These things are easily fixed.

The music was current and passionate. It was played by the author and composer with a keyboard and guitar. I’m sure there were some pre-recorded tracks as well. I’m not totally a fan of all of the electronic music, but it was performed with such power that I enjoyed it. In fact, the honest response is that at times I felt more like I was in a church service than in a play. All of the actors sang as if they were singing worship songs. I’m not sure why I was bothered by that except  that I went expecting to see a musical and this was a different kind.

As they were telling the story of Billy they mentioned that he had first attended Bob Jones College. Well, I wish they had just mentioned it. Instead, they had a scene that included Dr. Bob yelling and really chewing Billy out for failing and having so many demerits. Trust me, I am not always proud of everything Bob Jones has done, but it felt more like the author was making an attack on Bob Jones. When I asked about it at intermission, I was told that this attitude was from Billy’s perspective. Hmmmm. perhaps. I’m just not sure why it needed to be such a big point in the scene. Did that one incident become a turning point in some way for Billy?

Did I like the musical? Yes, I really did. I am not sure what  message the author was trying to present, but this is what I received:

Billy Graham was a typical kid. He loved movies and playing. In fact, wanted to be just like Tarzan, but God had other plans. Billy ran from God. He sometimes questioned authority and even “bucked the system.” God had other plans. He had a magnetic personality and could charm  even people like, George Beverly Shea. He was loyal to his friends. He questioned religion but then firmly believed in the infallibility of the Bible. He was passionate about all people, all races, and become their advocate proclaiming like Jesus,  “Do not forbid one to come and hear.”  Billy Graham is a man who has gone on to heaven. 

The more important message? This is a story about a man who lived in a different time, his time has past. But you can still be a Billy. You, today, could make the same decisions that Billy did. What will you choose?

In the beginning I made the comment that I felt like the whole cast was singing as if they were singing worship songs. They were. This cast poured their hearts out and sang for Jesus. They cried over us as they sang one last song and, honestly,  I might have even shed a tear or two as well.

Here is what I learned and they are important lessons for me as an owner of a Christian theater company.

  1. The venue doesn’t matter. I spend so much time thinking about what people think or about how comfortable they are. Believe me, our seats and views of the stage at Overshadowed are so much better than what we experienced and yet, people came. Night after night they were sold out….just like a Crusade.
  2. Christian themed plays can still attract sold out audiences. Sometimes our original Christian works are poorly attended. It is sometimes discouraging for me, but this gives me hope. I know this, but a good reminder is always important.
  3. God moves in the audience’s hearts. He doesn’t need great acting, big theaters, grand sets. He just needs me to be willing to follow His leading
  4. We should pray over our audience more. To be honest, it felt a little manipulating to be told that the cast prayed over each seat: for our spouses, future spouse, children etc. But in the end, I was comforted by that. That’s pretty incredible and felt pretty personal.  

If you get a chance please check out this musical. You can purchase the soundtrack from their website at http://www.crusadethemusical.com

Here is a sample:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjJTkOmmvoA

Who was Billy Graham to you? What are God’s plans for you? Is He calling you to be a Billy? Do you think you would enjoy a musical like this one? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And as always, it would mean a great deal to me if you would like and follow my blog!

Until next time–this is just me–talking to you–from the wings.