Badlands Passion Play celebrates 25th season

Passion Set Nickel

The 25th season of the Passion Play is guaranteed to be like nothing you have seen before.

While that could have been said of every production from one year to the next for those who had never been to an earlier performance, this 2018 run is unique.

The story is the same and we know the glorious ending, but this year it is being offered as a musical complete with 24 original songs to carry the narrative and to give glimpses inside the characters to their innermost thoughts; their hopes, struggles and concerns.

Under the co-directorship of Barrett Hileman and Royal Sproule, Music Director Luke Ertman was given the task of writing 24 original songs that would express a wide range of circumstances and emotions and he did so employing a wide range of musical genres as well.

The story opens with the lament expressing the “400 YEARS” of silence since God has spoken to his people through the prophets. If I suggest that the next song expresses the heart of Peter as he calls out “ANSWER ME” and the song after that is “ONE MAN” and introduces John the Baptist, you will see the pattern and perhaps guess from the titles which facet of the Gospel is being presented.

I will list the titles and in some instances provide an obscure hint in parentheses as to who or what is being referenced.

“GOD WILL MAKE A WAY” (Jewish history); “LOVE IS BORN”; “THE LONG SHOT”; “OPEN ALL NIGHT”; “99 TO 1”; “JUST A TOUCH”; “WHO DO WE FISH FOR?”; “SOMETHING BIG”, (The Disciples return from their mission into the countryside); “I AM THE ROCK” (Peter).

Act II shifts the attention now to Jerusalem and what is generally considered the “Passion Week”. The songs indicate the heights and depths of that week in “POWER AND PRIVILEGE”, “JERUSALEM”, (Jesus’ lament of the city); “WHAT THE MESSIAH WILL BE” (According to Peter’s supposition!); “JESUS RESTS” (At Mary’s and Martha’s house); “START THE CELEBRATION”’; “LONG NIGHT”; “SIMON’S SONG”; “LAST CHANCE”; “PRODIGAL”; “TROUBLE”; “ALONE/MY CROSS TO BEAR”; “WHAT HAS HAPPENED?”; and “ALIVE IN ME” (A glorious ending).

Someone else has used the term “Pure Genius” to describe the construction of these songs. Musicians will appreciate all the technicalities used in the layering of lyrics and music that are beyond my understanding but I know they made an impact on my senses.

The other aspect was how the same song could be “reinterpreted” under the same title and express such a different point of view.

I think especially of songs like “Answer Me”, “99 to 1”, “Who do we fish for?”, “Power and Privilege” and “Trouble”.

But the Passion Play is first and foremost the “Dramatic” telling of the Gospel and it is the performance of everyone on stage that has over the years been touching the hearts of the audiences. Aaron Krogman returned this year to take up the role of Jesus again, and Tim Hildebrand came back from Burbank, CA to play the part of Peter.

Many of the actors are long time “family members” of the Badlands Passion Play and have been in several performances. Others are new this year. While previous years did require some musical vocalization mostly in choral numbers this year demanded a lot more in the way of solo parts, and the cast did superbly in every role. Far be it from anyone to suggest anything less that top professionalism. The irony was that for some, their voices sounded “raw” or “breaking”, but far from being a flaw, it was the very emotion that transformed the piece from a “showpiece” to “heart rending cry”.

When it was announced that this was going to be a “musical” and it was going to have the band “on stage” some were concerned that this would detract from the focus of the story. The ‘band’ was all but completely hidden behind the “corner shop” as it were, but the music and songs will return in days to come to remind the hearer of the emotions that were stirred when they heard them.

Personally I would love to have a sound track available as a keepsake.

As with every year since its beginning 25 years ago, there is so much to be said about the story itself, the dramatic portrayal of every character from the seemingly most insignificant child in the background to Pilate or the disciples and Jesus, or the detailed costuming, or set design so this year also all the accolades should be mentioned and the various directors and technicians should be commended.

The best way to be informed about these details is to take in at least one of the performances and pick up the program.

Performances are from July 6-22.