His Life the Musical: Introducing Jesus Through Music and Theatre

His Life the Musical tells of an accurate but unimpressive musical adaptation of the most important Man in Christianity.

Promise Ministries International’s His Life the Musical comes back to Singapore for the second time to tell the story of undoubtedly the most important Man in the Christian faith. The musical is staged at Trinity Christian Centre from 15 to 19 July.

Note: I will be reviewing and critiquing the musical for its entertainment value, theatrics, pacing, and to a limited extent; historical accuracy. The review will not explicitly cover method and intent of delivery as well as its evangelistic element.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know or have at least heard of the name of Jesus. So pivotal to Christianity is He that the entire Christian faith is centered around Him (and God and the Holy Spirit). Through the years, the story of Jesus is usually played out on stage during the Easter period. Being a believer, I could hardly contain my excitement when I discovered in the newspapers (by chance) His Life the Musical that was slated to perform that same week.

Finally! A musical about Jesus!

The musical kicked off with a young group of female dancers doing a rather awkward-looking dance number before the ‘Apostle John’ (played by Bill Brooks) was introduced. Adding a small twist to the conventional storyline, Apostle John engages in dialogue with us audience in the present-day as the story of Jesus plays out.

Except for the elaborate costumes and sets, the musical then plays out in a very typical Easter-production fashion, going through the various checkpoints of Jesus’ life from the time He was born, to the Last Supper, Via Dolorosa, Crucifixion and Resurrection.

It’s hard to review this musical because I actually dozed off midway into it. No other character draws such attention from its devotees, academics, historians and critics from all over the world than Jesus. The people surrounding Him are equally multi-dimensional and layered in terms of their character. Simon had a bad temper, Thomas was a doubting pessimist, Thaddeus was extremely violent, Matthew worked for the enemy previously, and we all know about Judas Iscariot. The musical had quite a lot of resource to work on (4 Gospels’ worth of resource) but it just didn’t do the Gospels justice.

Maybe I was expecting too much, but I was hoping for a musical that’s maybe more on the fun side, or  that it gives us audiences a glimpse into the struggles of the multi-layered characters in the bible. But perhaps that was made a lesser priority to portraying the story of Jesus in the ‘most accurate depiction‘ possible as stated by the organiser. Scripting and delivery of lines were also uninspiring and monotonous in terms of emotions. I find it hard to connect with Jesus or the disciples in the story.

The tunes of the songs in the musical lacked the vibe and It seems as though verses of the bible were forcibly fitted into the songs. Randy Brooks was great in his singing and I wish I could say the same for his acting as Jesus. Bright lights and fine linen clothes don’t make Jesus, Jesus. It’s that raw sense of human emotion, of unconditional love and anguish in His final moments that makes Jesus, Jesus. Unfortunately, I did not find that in Brooks.

Apostle John’s monologue in-between scenes was distracting and at times prevented the audience from connecting with the actors on a deeper level. On that note, it seems as though every scene in the first half ends on a ‘high’, waiting for audiences to applaud. I found it unnecessary and it only made the abrupt cut-in of John’s monologue that much more prominent.

The musical would maybe delight a conservative Christian audience but it might not enjoy the same effect on an unbelieving secular crowd. For all its historical accuracy and all, I wonder if there’s too much text to squeeze into a two-hour musical? While the verses and anecdotes from Jesus and pals may score some nods from the Christian crowd, unbelievers might find it hard to connect the dots and understand the story in its entirety.

Lastly, I couldn’t understand why the first dance scene was even needed. Normally, the opening scene can either make or break the show. And in His Life the Musical’s case, it broke the show. The dance routine was mediocre at best, not leaving me wanting more other than to wish for it to end quickly so that we can ‘get on with the show’ only to find that it just doesn’t get any better.

Most surprising to me was that the musical has actually been seen by more than 39 million people to date, has been around for more than 15 years and has accumulated achievements through those years.

Now here comes the big question(s). Should a musical about a religious figure be branded as a secular event or a religious one? Can it be in-between? Should audiences watch such a musical to be informed, entertained, or preached to? Can entertainment value be expected from it? Can industry standards on performance be applied to such shows? If yes, why? If not, why not? 

Overall, the musical was less than inspirational. Perhaps there’s a better way to present the story of Jesus. But don’t take my word for it. RW

His Life the Musical ran in Trinity Christian Centre from 15 to 19 July 2015.