PUTTING TOGETHER A MUSICAL PRODUCTION

A musical production is one of those mysterious things that is greater than the sum of its parts. Each song may be strong in its own way —uplifting, touching, dramatic, fun—but properly put together, they create a synergy that has greater life and power than single songs generate alone. Each supports, and is supported by, the others. Working together, they realize their maximum potential. Rather like the church.

Simply organizing such a program from existing songs is a lot like writing a musical. Some of the principles involved in writing a musical will also serve you in putting together a concert, an album or even a worship service.

So we’ll briefly examine the four general types of musicals: the Book Musical, the Revue, the Topical Musical and the Interactive Musical.
1. A Book Musical is a musical play. It’s by far the most complex to write and produce and usually involves the talents of many people. Book musicals tell stories that make them personal and emotional. They can be great ministry tools, especially for evangelization.

Any good Book Musical begins with a strong story-line—problems and resolutions, conflict, battles, goals, and, finally, triumph!

Here are the three main parts of your outline:

Get your protagonist out on a limb: Establish the characters and the conflict immediately. Someone wants something; people or circumstances are in the way. Or there is a terrible misunderstanding.
Saw off the limb: Additional complications build. Now things are getting serious. Is there a solution?
Rescue him. Problems solved. We see changes, resolutions to conflict.

The above scenario is classic. It’s what makes the gospel story so gripping:
• Jesus (surely the world’s most sympathetic hero) gets in trouble with the establishment, suffers increasing threats and persecution.
• Jesus is tried and crucified. All seems lost.
• Jesus is resurrected from the dead, and ascends into heaven! This story, in all its truth, has kept people spellbound for centuries. We adapted it and presented it as The Witness.

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Your ultimate resolution is much stronger if, instead of just a happy ending, you can make it what J.R.R. Tolkien called a eucatastrophe. This is the opposite of a catastrophe—a turn of events so good that it’s catastrophically good! The resurrection is the greatest eucatastrophe of all time.

2. A Revue is really a variety show. It doesn’t have a plot, and none of its elements needs to relate to the others. Variety and pace are its keys to success. It usually consists of songs, dances and skits.

When used for ministry, each element has something to say: the satirical sections are pertinent and punchy; the dramatic or comic skits touch us in some way; the music hooks us and gives us a message as well.

Keep it fast paced for the most part, then give some release with a thoughtful song or skit to change the pace and perhaps to underline a spiritual point. Let those rising and falling emotional waves carry the audience to a big ending.

3. A Topical Musical is a revue with a theme. It doesn’t have a story, but each song, dance and skit relates to the theme. You won’t hop from one unrelated topic to another, as you do in a Revue; the flow of your material needs to make sense.

Know your goal, find your beginning, and decide what you want to “talk about” on the way. Decide on the mood of each part and how that can best be communicated: song? skit? dance? Build those emotional waves, from laughter to seriousness, to nostalgia. Use all the diversity of sights, sounds and characters at your disposal.

This is a great form of musical for special events: Mothers’ Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, 4th of July. It’s also perfect for using different age groups together within a church. Give the little kids a great spot or two. The audience will love them. Bring on the whole bunch for the finale.

4. An Interactive musical is motivational and used almost exclusively for ministry. Think of it as a Topical Musical with audience participation. Usually led by a minister, narrator, or worship leader, it involves the audience in response to its theme. It may teach Christian doctrine or practice, and almost always includes congregational worship. Congregational songs should be simple enough for the audience to sing immediately.

come together

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Jimmy with Pat Boone and the London Come Together Mass Choir at Royal Albert Hall

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If My People, Flag Day, America’s 200th anniversary, U.S. Capitol
           
As in every form of musical, variety is a key element:
1. Songs: Vary tempos, keys, vocal ranges, feel, dynamics.
  2. Performance: Soloists, large and small groups, instrumentals.
Your musical may or may not also contain some of the following:
  3. Dances: Solos, duets, groups. Tap, ballet, ethnic, etc.
4. Skits: Comedy, drama, one-man presentation, small and large groups. (Think of “Master of the House” from Les Miserables.)

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(More about musicals next time.)

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