BELTON — The prospect of 60 costumed actors and crew members staging a large-scale musical drama in the sanctuary of a small-town church might give some reason to pause. But at Belton Nazarene, there was no hesitation earlier this week at a dress rehearsal of “Bow the Knee,” a song-packed show that tells the Easter story.
Stage manager Andrea Shaw seemed everywhere at once as she dealt with staging and costume details. Her husband, Tommy, has a starring role as a centurion named Anthony who, after experiencing the miracles and teachings of Jesus, accepts him as his savior.
“He’s (Anthony) been loyal to Caesar for years,” Shaw explained, “but his servant, Eli, has come to know Jesus, and gradually, Anthony sees the truth.” Dramatic conflict is heightened as Anthony carries out Pilate’s command to nail Christ to the cross.
Director Nelda Milligan, the resident piano virtuoso at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, calmly intoned her preshow comments from the back of the sanctuary.
“Please don’t watch the prompter all the time,” she reminded, gesturing to the lyrics projected on the rear wall. “Ensemble, short people, move around tall actors, but don’t make a line like a choir.”
Last-minute blocking advice was given by Andrea Shaw, who then took her place as a member of the “crowd” on the stage. Two walls on stage right and left served as projection screens and displayed titles describing each scene’s setting.
Ceiling-mounted LED theatrical lighting instruments and two operator-controlled follow-spots kept the lighting design simple but effective.
“Bow the Knee,” which runs just over an hour in one act, was written by songwriter Chris Machen and orchestrated by Richard Kingsmore in a contemporary pop-influenced idiom. Big, joyful set pieces and the expected slow-tempo power ballads, most with one or more modulations to a higher key, are the dominant musical styles. A duet between Jesus, played by Milligan’s husband, Ben, and Shaw: “So All Alone,” displayed their flexible tenor voices in the slow setting of the inspirational tune.
Throughout the pageant, a marked kinetic pacing kept the show moving.
Actors entered and exited through the aisles.
The three-step-high altar area was filled with a cast of people from ages 2 to 80.
Body microphones ensured the dialog and lyrics were heard above the recorded orchestral accompaniment.
The crucifixion scene, always a challenge, was staged with subdued lighting and registers a subtle but immediate effect.
The lighthearted banter among church members kept the rehearsal from veering too deep into ultra-seriousness.
Pointing to her husband, Milligan asserted: “He takes awhile to decompress after being Jesus.”
Serious about message
The cast and crew are serious about the message that “Bow the Knee” delivers.
One of last year’s performances included “several in the audience that were avowed nonbelievers,” Milligan said.
“During the show, they were actively wiping tears from their faces — it touched their hearts. It actually revealed to them the story of Christ.”