EDMOND—Music and Irish dance show Celtic Throne played June 30 and July 1 in Branson, Missouri, the first time a Philadelphia Church of God production has been staged on the road. The show, which traces the journey of King David’s dance form through the history of Jerusalem, Ireland, Scotland, England and America, premiered June 28 at Armstrong Auditorium in Edmond.
A total of 72 Celtic Throne cast and crew members and trailer loads of equipment journeyed five and a half hours to the town, known for its family friendly theaters and attractions, arriving at the Dutton Theater for the doubleheader appearance before audiences of 94 and 57, respectively.
The Tuesday night and Wednesday morning shows in Branson were distinct from the premiere in numerous ways. Instead of playing on a massive screen behind the dancers, images and videos depicting the night sky, scenic landscapes, the American flag and the universe appeared on a projector screen on either side of the small stage. During rehearsals, dancers and teachers searched for the balance between dancing too close together and getting too close to the precarious sides of the stage, which gave way to stairwells. The live band performed not at stage left, but on the theater floor beside stage right, opposite a stand full of black, gray and green Celtic Throne merchandise. A piano duo in the second-half “American Medley” was adapted as a keyboard duo. Two large terraced platforms onstage in Edmond were replaced by one tiny, single-step surface. Unavailable were the strobe lights to accentuate the terror of “Gale” and “Conflict” and red, white and blue floodlights to punctuate the patriotism of “Resurgence.” The throne and stone from the premiere did not travel to Branson.
Dance department head Brad Macdonald, who directed Celtic Throne, said the crew confronted new obstacles seemingly every hour while in Branson, constant adjustments that he said gave everyone the opportunity to apply Herbert W. Armstrong’s fifth law of success: resourcefulness.
The tweaks to the show mattered not at all to the audience, who met each music and dance number with riotous applause and hollering. One patron at the June 30 performance, a grandmother to two Irish dancers, said she has attended many Irish dance shows and called the show “amazing.”
A couple at the July 1 show discovered Celtic Throne on the Dutton Facebook page and drove 133 miles from Stilwell, Oklahoma, just to attend, expecting the dancers to be around 25-30 years old. Instead, they witnessed a baby-faced dance troupe ranging in age from 6-22, plus some extras as young as 4. “We weren’t expecting young kids, but they’re awesome,” one of them remarked.
“One thing that really impressed me was the smiles on their faces,” another patron at the July 1 show said. “They actually love what they’re doing. They actually are having a good time doing it, and it makes you think of King David when he was running and leaping and dancing. I mean, just full of joy.”
The trip to the popular tourist town of Branson was anything but a vacation, at least for those involved in Celtic Throne. The moment the curtain closed and the cast let out a shrill cheer on Sunday after the completion of the premiere in Edmond, Armstrong Auditorium manager Douglas Culpepper and some of the maintenance department crew were already packing up equipment, arriving in Branson at 1 a.m. on Monday and setting the stage that morning. After the other crew, musicians, dancers and parents arrived on Monday, they held a two-hour rehearsal, a street performance where dancers and family members passed fliers to passersby, and a five-minute dance that night at Dutton Theater before The Duttons performed. Tuesday morning they held a three-hour rehearsal, followed by an afternoon of street dancing to attract interest in attending Celtic Throne.
“When they performed in the downtown Branson area, it drew a lot of attention, especially the hard-shoe,” Philadelphia Church of God online marketing director David Vejil said. “The hard-shoe dancing got a lot of people coming in because they could hear it echoing off the walls of the shops.” He said they distributed about 150 brochures and many people stayed to watch the dancers for about 10 minutes.
At a catered dinner that evening, sweaty dancers in black-and-gray Celtic Throne shirts devoured Mediterranean wraps, too hungry from exertion to be not hungry from nerves. In one corner of the hotel conference room, quality-control manager Amy Flurry gave calf massages to her son, male lead dancer Jude Flurry, and male co-lead Jordan Saranga in order to counteract the soreness that results from practicing for several hours per day for several months of preparation.
Amid the bustling mass of bodies at dinner, some cast and crew took the time to share their thoughts. Saranga credited years of Imperial Academy physical education workouts with having the fitness level necessary for a show that’s basically the equivalent of high-intensity, extended-length interval training. He said that the trick to feeling comfortable onstage is training enough to get all the steps into muscle memory so you don’t have to actively think about them.
Jude Flurry explained why Celtic Throne adds non-traditional arm movements into the Irish dance form, saying that it is “a way to express more emotion and passion as well when you’re doing it ….”
“Most of it, honestly, is just trying to get the audience to have fun,” Flurry said of his mindset while performing. “I’m just thinking about having fun myself, and then trying to spread it to the audience. … That’s the biggest thing.”
Mr. Macdonald, who watches each show in the theater and gives instructions via headset, commented that, for him, watching the show is “enjoyable, but not in the same way it would be for everyone else. I think it’ll begin to sink in after Tuesday next week.”
In his June 26 Bible study for Philadelphia Church of God members, Mr. Macdonald described Celtic Throne as “your story, your history, your future, your throne,” and gave examples of how audience members who are deeply familiar with King David and the spiritual, worldwide significance of his throne, could see levels of meaning throughout the show.
Speaking of symbolism, Mrs. Flurry said: “We didn’t plan this, but [Herbert W. Armstrong College junior] Seth Malone said he really liked, in the end of ‘Utopia,’ how [ballet dancer] Hannah [Worrell] and [Irish dancer] Tori [Locher] … lean and touch hands. And it’s above the clouds. And he just said they were two different dance styles, two different races, and they come together. I could see that being really meaningful for a lot of people.”
“They will definitely go away with a very positive, uplifting experience, and hopefully it would be enough to make them curious about the Church and what we believe and what we produce and why we produce it,” Evangelist Stephen Flurry said. “You just never know—they might end up going to theTrumpet.com website or requesting literature or maybe having a really interesting conversation with one of our members.”