Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Pilgrim's Progress

We saw a fantastic production of Pilgrim's Progress last week put on by The Glory Shop. I was proud of Alexis Duperree and Nealson Munn, who were my students at the Salvation Army Conservatory where I teach and direct most summers. Of course Nealson was playing guitar, so I had nothing to do with that, but I was still proud!

The story is a powerful look at how every path but Jesus leads to death, and even once you choose Him there are trials at every turn.

The script is written by my colleague, Tom Key. He stuck with the 17th century language, but he added a brilliant modem interlude, performed by Alexis.

It was creatively staged by Christopher Monroe, and had possibly the most inventive use of black boxes and PVC pipe I've ever seen! He also got Tom's permission to cast Pilgrim as a woman, well played by Juilliard graduate Kristine Chandler. It heightened the power of the character's choice to leave an unbelieving family behind, fulfilling Luke 14:26: 'Jesus said to them, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."' It also, in essence, combined the story with the second part in which Pilgrim's wife, Christiana, and their sons make the journey.

Another favorite element for me was the casting of the three angels. Each of their lines was spoken together in English, and then repeated in the actor's native tongue: Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese. It was a foretaste of Heaven!

I have a very soft spot in my heart for this story, because it was one of the first I helped tell on a New York stage. In the early '90's I was an intern at The Lamb's Church, which had two Off-Broadway theatres. Twins Kurt and Keith Landaas were considering a production of their rock opera Pilgrim's Progress, and I happened to be the one showing them around the theatre. I mentioned to them that I'd love to audition, so they said, "Go for it." So I sang "Do You Hear the People Sing" from Les Misérables a'cappella right there in the balcony. It parlayed into my Off-Broadway debut, and we also performed it in New Jersey and Staten Island. It was a modern adaptation, and I played one of the darker characters. I found out later I was really intimidating some of the cast with faux piercings and borrowed motorcycle boots. LOL!

Watching Tom's script proved to me that Bunyan's allegory doesn't need a modern twist to make it relevant. It addresses many of the same issues we're still dealing with today.

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A Clear Leading tells the story of Quaker abolitionist John Woolman, who spoke against slavery a century before our Civil War.

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