By Grace Gardener
Ever since I watched Les Misérables a few years ago, I have been a big fan of musical theatre. The spectacle, the music and the intimacy of knowing that the actors are real people performing a show right in front of you are very exciting. Sadly, I don’t live in an area with a theatre, so for now my main enjoyment will have to come from watching clips online. Not many productions will produce an official video of their full show, which makes it hard to find a good quality recording.
Thankfully, some companies make a point of it to not only produce shows, but also to record them for anyone not living in the neighbourhood. One example of such a company is Sight & Sound Theatres. They make productions about stories in the Bible and other historical events concerning Christianity. My first encounter with them was watching their 2020 production of JESUS.
Clearly, a lot of effort was put into the show. It opens with Jesus calling Peter and Andrew to follow Him. Unlike most movies, books and shows, made about Him, this production is based on the book of John. Because of this, it ex- and includes some scenes that are left out of other adaptations. I was a bit sceptical of the show at first, fearing it would sacrifice quality for spreading a message – one I wholeheartedly agree with, by the way. I also didn’t expect a Christian theatre company to have a large budget. In this regard – and in most of my other doubts – I was mistaken.
The one part of the show that wasn’t of good quality was the music. This wasn’t due to a lack of vocals or visuals. I still remember Mary Magdalene’s song: her voice was powerful and the scene looked great. Ironically, I have no memory whatsoever of the actual melody of the song. And that is the problem with the music in this show. The moment the credits stopped rolling, all of the melodies had been erased from my memory. The songs are very forgettable.
Thankfully, even when the songs sounded boring, the acting was good enough to still appreciate the scene. The actors did a great job. And it’s not just the ones in the spotlight who are putting in the work: if your eyes stray from the main scene, you will see the background actors themselves are staying in character. This adds a lot to the set, which I will talk about in a moment. Of course, the main characters do a great job as well.
For me, three scenes especially stood out: 1) the aftermath of Jesus getting angry in the temple. Judas nails the mixture of annoyed and scared. (2) The scene where Jesus prayed in the garden. Up till then, he had been all smiles and kindly words. In that scene, you suddenly see the other side and it’s clear the actor has range. (3) The women wailing over Jesus’ dead body. There is much lamenting and it is very sad.
As good as the acting was, I’d say the set was the most impressive. To begin with, the show includes many live animals. Not just small ones like doves and sheep, but also camels and horses. The sets are huge and have multiple stories. From what I could see, there were three main sets: a town, a main square, and some houses on a hill. The way these were built was beautiful, and it really has to be seen to be believed. A lot of detail was put into each parts, so that every scene looks different.
Behind the set, there was a large screen on which animations could be shown. For example, when the scene happened on a lake, the screen would show a lake. The animations were very detailed and looked pleasing. I could go on about the set for a long time, because there were a lot of cool things. Rain and wind on stage, a rising lake during the storm, a flying angel, etc. This really is a show I’d want to attend live just to be able to see the stage changing between each scene.
Since this is a recording, the camera work also deserves a mention. Most recordings have rather basic shots: wide ones of the whole stage and close-ups of actors. JESUS has these as well, but during some scenes the shooting becomes more cinematic, for example during the garden scene. It was cool to see that the recording of the show wasn’t just some afterthought to make more money, but that they really thought it out and did their best to make it look good.
The shows that have been recorded can be seen for $9.99 per view (or you can buy it on DVD). This is a normal price, and I’d say it’s worth it. The show is a spectacle, though they have to work on the music. The good actors and phenomenal sets are what make this show entertaining, and I’d love to watch more of their recordings in the future.