Nestled among the rolling hills and Amish dairy farms of Lancaster, Pennsylvania a family-owned regional theatre called Sight & Sound is drawing record crowds to its just-launched musical JESUS: Live Onstage. The cast of 50 actors—augmented by live camels, donkeys, doves and the most state-of-the-art special effects imaginable—just opened on March 10th (but good luck getting a ticket until sometime in late May or June…as audiences pack the 2,000 seat auditorium for what can best be described as a, well, religious experience.)
“The thing about live theater is that it is totally unique with each performance and we don’t get to see it until it unfolds on stage,” observes Katie Miller, whose grandparents founded Sight & Sound Theatre 42 years ago. “JESUS: Live Onstage has been four years in the making, and has the fingerprints of hundreds of actors, musicians, skilled craftsmen and special effects staff all over this production.”
Miller—the oldest of the third generation of her family involved in Sight & Sound—exudes confidence as she serves as Communications Director of the Lancaster flagship as well as a companion location in Branson, Missouri. She says together the theatres will welcome over 1.5-million guests throughout 2018.
But as with any live stage show, what matters most is what magical things happen once the house lights dim and the production begins. And the focal point of this spectacular musical is Jonathan Blair, a 22-year old actor who portrays Jesus onstage. (A second actor, Brandon Talley, assumes the role during alternate performances.)
Blair says assuming the persona of Jesus Christ—while an awesome responsibility in terms of shouldering the bulk of this musical’s scenes and messaging—was “also a comfort because Jesus is someone I know personally. My theatrical approach is, let me show you what I know about this very special man.”
In addition to the actors and live animals roaming throughout the theater and onstage, the production’s special effects—including a breathtaking scene where Jesus literally walks on the raging Sea of Galilee--are brought to life in part by one of the largest LED screens ever employed in a live theatrical musical: 113 feet wide, and almost 30 feet tall, weighing 12 tons. All of which delivers a “wow” factor live theater audiences haven’t enjoyed since HAMILTON hit Broadway.
Josh Enck—President of Sight & Sound Theatre and chief creative officer of“JESUS: Live Onstage”—is pumped-up about audience reaction to this latest production. “What I hope people walk away from this show feeling and thinking,” Enck says, “is that Jesus is our Lord and that his actions display the love of God directly for the ones who need rescue.”
Hollywood was recently stunned when “I CAN ONLY IMAGINE”—the latest faith-based film from the directing team of Andy & John Erwin—generated over $17-million on its opening weekend (vs. the predicted $2-million) and rocketed to No. 3 in the domestic box office numbers, besting even Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time starring Oprah Winfrey.
As family cars and tour buses wend their way through the countryside surrounding Lancaster, a similarly seismic event is under way at Sight & Sound Theatre…where 42 years ago the Eshelman family changed their mission from creating dairy products to producing live Biblical epics onstage. Look out, Broadway: the standing ovations at Sight & Sound Theatre celebrate not only brilliant stagecraft but also the saving of audience members’ eternal souls. And that’s a really tough act to follow.