Saturday, May 25, 2013

The 'New' Version of the Musical Lazarus to Debut in Washington

"One has risen from the dead, and rich Christians confess this at their table, and yet poor Lazarus, in millions, continues to hunger and to perish from hunger at their door.  The point of this parable is not, as is often suspected, the consoling pipe-dream of heaven for poor Lazarus.  It is addressed exclusively to the rich man.  It is not meant to console the poor with the hope of recompense beyond the grave, but to warn the rich of damnation and to incite them to hear and act in the world."  -Helmut Gollwitzer, from The Rich Christians and Poor Lazarus
I have been involved in Bread for the World for more than 30 years, and some of my best memories include attending a handful of performances of Lazarus, a musical written by Joel Underwood.  Joel served at Bread in many capacities (including director of church relations), but his musical based on Luke 16: 19-31 is part of the strong legacy he is leaving for our grassroots anti-hunger movement.  Louise F. Carlson and Sam V. Nickels arranged his music for Lazarus.

My experiences of Lazarus, include two very different but powerful interpretations of the musical. On two separate occasions, I had the privilege of watching a Gospel version of the play performed by a very talented cast at Mount Carmel Church of God in Christ in Kansas City, Kan.  Marie Frasure, who was part of the leadership team for Bread in the Kansas City area during the 1980s and 1990s and a member of  Mount Carmel, was the one who convinced the church's musical director Paul Sims to take on this endeavor.

The other adaptation of Lazarus that I attended (also twice) was  in the Albuquerque area, at Rio Rancho Presbyterian Church.  This was a much smaller but equally compelling version.  Rev. Kay Huggins, a Bread member and pastor of the church at the time, was the one who brought the play to our community.  By the way, Rev. Huggins was the flute player in the musical ensemble that accompanied the performance.

There have been  many other versions of Lazarus performed around the country over the years, including a one-person show by Harriet Harlow Larsen (with accompaniment by Lou Ann Rice).

Dr. Bill Cummings
2013 Revival at National Gathering
And in 2013, a revival of Lazarus is scheduled at the Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, June 8. The revival version, entitled Lazarus the Musical, will kick off Bread for the World's National Gathering this year.

This revival version keeps the lyrics and the tunes of the songs intact, but noted musical director Dr. Bill Cummings modernized and added a contemporary touch to the arrangements. The 2013 musical and production team also includes Emmy Award-winning producer and composer Rickey Payton; Glenn Pearson, musical director; April Carter, stage manager; and Felicia Kessel Crawley, vocal director and co-producer.

There is good news and bad news about the Washington performance.  The Good News the show is sold out.  While many of those in attendance are Bread for the World members participating in the National Gathering, there are many others from the Washington-Baltimore metro area who will experience this story in words and music. The Bad News: The show is sold out. 

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