EDMOND—Over 100 cast and crew members performed the fifth original Philadelphia Church of God musical production on the Armstrong Auditorium stage from Dec. 29, 2016, to Jan. 1, 2017. The musical follows the story from the biblical book of Ruth and focuses on the strength God gives to those who rely on Him. The production is scheduled to be released on video in October.
Besides the 94 people who were visible on stage, 14 technicians, six prop and digital artists, and three costumers supported the effort. Starting in August, chorus members learned their parts and the staging for them in weekly two-hour classes. Dancers spent two and a half hours a week learning and drilling choreography. The singing leads practiced around four to five hours a week to prepare. The entire cast took part in about 15 hours of rehearsals in the last week before the performances. Recording engineer Ken Sarkey recorded 21 instrumentalists over 23 hours for the recorded soundtrack.
All three rehearsals and the three performances were recorded, and a dvd of the musical will be available in fall 2017. The audio recording of the musical is currently available on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play, iHeartRadio and many other digital platforms.
Composer Ryan Malone said that this musical was distinct from the other four in “the fact that it had a love story that was kind of a central component. This one was about the love story, and it’s probably the most untraditional love story ever.”
Unique circumstances in the story of Ruth, such as the customs of lying at a man’s feet to express the desire to marry him, or giving a man a shoe to make an agreement official, required characters like the part Mr. Malone played, the chief elder, who was used to relay exposition material to the audience. These characters were fictional but were “nonfictional in what they represent,” Mr. Malone said.
This musical had fewer lead singers than past musicals, with only three main characters and a few other soloists. Herbert W. Armstrong College sophomore Jessica Brandon played the role of Ruth. Voice instructor Mark Jenkins played Boaz, and voice instructor Paula Malone played Naomi.
In addition to the songs, 14 dancers from the Maguire and Carey Academies of Irish Dance performed six dance numbers. The Carey Academy is based in Birmingham, England, and the Tucson-headquartered Maguire Academy has schools in several Southwestern states and Mexico. The first five dances represented activities such as the celebration of the beginning of the harvest and Ruth and Boaz’s marriage. The dancers also shared the stage with the rest of the cast during the finale. Paula Malone said that her favorite moment of the musical was the winnowing of the barley dance, where the dancers were dressed like wheat and represented its movement on the threshing floor. “I loved that dance! Every time it was on I had to watch it.”
Aside from the book of Ruth, lyrics were pulled most often from the book of Proverbs. “What the Psalms were to the David musical, the Proverbs were to this one,” Mr. Malone said. He said that Proverbs 31 is probably Bathsheba talking about Ruth specifically. In the musical, Boaz’s chief steward, Ben (played by Joshua Sloan) sings “A Virtuous Woman,” which is primarily quotes from Proverbs 31. Arizona member Poppy Hochstetler, who traveled to Edmond for the Singles Winter Weekend, overheard a patron saying of Sloan: “If he was on The Voice, I would vote for him.”
Herbert W. Armstrong College sophomore Jesse Zoellner played the antagonist of the musical, Tob, Ruth’s near kinsman. The production depicted Tob as a miser who threw impoverished gleaners out of his field and into Boaz’s field. “With each musical, he got better, he got more comfortable in his own skin, and he started to be able throw people around on the stage,” said Maggie Hilliker, who played a widow gleaner. “By Sunday, he was totally having fun.” During the tech rehearsal, stage manager Roger Brandon added to the fun by pretend-tackling Jesse for throwing down his daughter.
Jessica Brandon said she learned how to rely more on God both through the physical preparation for the musical and through the message of the musical. “It really forced me to put more trust in God for it and ask Him for a lot of specific help,” she said.
Assistant dean of students at Herbert W. Armstrong College, Eric Burns, played one of the 10 elders. His advice for those who watch the musical: “Don’t just watch it once. Watch it the first time for the sheer enjoyment of all the different characters and performances without worrying about catching all the words from each song,” he said. “Then the second, or even the third time for those that want to get the most out of it, think more about the messages while still enjoying the show as you focus on different individuals performing.”
Armstrong freshman Carleigh Blanchat said that she learned from her singing part in the musical that “God gives to those in need. It doesn’t matter who we are—if we’re strangers in this land, or it doesn’t necessarily matter if we’ve done something wrong and now are back on track—God’s going to protect us if we go to Him.”
“The overarching lesson is just how much God loves you, and even when you think you’re in the pit of despair, He’s still got you, and He’s still working out a plan,” Paula Malone said.
Mr. Malone says there are no plans for a musical at the end of 2017, but he is composing an oratorio about Abraham for the spring of 2018.