Fourteen years ago, Deborah Craig-Claar and I wrote what may have been the last original dramatic church musical offered by a major print publisher – “The Christmas Post,” a musical comedy inspired by the paintings of Norman Rockwell. After that, Word Music never again published a full-length pure dramatic musical, nor has any other publisher, to my knowledge.
The reason for abandoning such products is simple: money. Dramatic musicals are expensive to produce. Their print sales tend to be steady but slow. Their profit margins tend to be slim. In the corporate world (and print music publishers are definitely in the corporate world), a healthy profit is mandatory for survival. So, while I mourn the disappearance of commercial musical theater products for the church, I understand it from a purely financial perspective.
The reasons for producing musical theater in the church are another story altogether: Outreach, evangelism, and building the church family. Ask directors that have mounted successful church musical theater projects, and they will talk your ear off about the positive effects the productions had on both their church and their community. These folks are passionate about musical theater.
For the past few months, I’ve been working with one of those passionate sorts – David Basel, the music pastor at Brightmoore Christian Church, Detroit. Brightmoore stages a dramatic musical every Christmas and Easter. Over the years, they have mounted every commercially available musical, including”The Christmas Post,” some multiple times.
Earlier this year, David came to Deborah and me, looking for an entirely new show. (That is a whole other story, btw.) There wasn’t time to write a new show for 2012, but we suggested the idea of expanding “The Christmas Post” with three new songs. This would give the show a fresh coat of paint, and flesh it out to be a more complete evening’s presentation. (“The Christmas Post,” runs only about 90 minutes, which is short by musical theater standards.)
And so (cut to the chase), last week, we recorded three new songs for “The Christmas Post,” here in Nashville. We converted two existing scenes that were largely dialogue into up-tempo musical numbers. And we wrote a jazzy song for a key character that didn’t have his own solo in the original show. We hired as many of the original players and actors as we could. In a lot of ways, it felt like a seamless continuum from the original production in 1998.
The decision to take on this project was a huge leap of faith for David and Brightmoore. Recording a 50-piece orchestra and choir is an expensive proposition, even for just three songs. But David and his people see it as their mission to present quality musical theater with an authentic faith-based message to the people of Detroit. He understands that is not easy to do, nor is it cheap.
The sessions went very well. (It was a blast to hear “Maxwell” and “Alice” and their friends from Homesboro come back to life.) The songs are huge fun and will boost the old show to a whole new level. The process of writing and recording the songs, as well as rewriting the script to accommodate the new songs, was a lot of hard work for everyone involved. But because passionate people were doing what they believe in, the work was a pleasure.
The entire process confirms what I have suspected for some time now: The future of creative Christian arts, particularly the arts outside the mainstream, lies not in corporate publishers, admirable as they may be, but in churches with the passion to tackle projects that may not make sense on a Profit and Loss spread sheet. Brightmoore Christian Church is taking a very real chance on “The Christmas Post 2.0,” as we have come to affectionately refer to this endeavor. They are risking significant capital on a ministry they believe will reach their community, share the message of Christ, and expand the Kingdom of God, with no guarantee of a financial return. (They present their shows free, without so much as a love offering.) They are putting their money where their heart is, and asking God to bless their best efforts. That is passion.
It makes me wonder: What am I passionate about? Where am I risking personal capital for what I believe in? How can God use the passion of my heart for the sake of His kingdom?
Blessings on David Basel and Brightmoore Christian Church for their passion.