Splendid ‘Messiah the Musical’ has a hope and a prayer for Broadway

Exhilarating music, dance, orchestration, and fine acting make for a winning opera.

Jeremiah Theatricals presented the premiere of Messiah the Musical in Concert at the Lisner Auditorium June 17 to 19. It featured splendid music and singing, combined with creative lighting and scenery. The crew mastered the Jewish style of humor, music, and dance to offer nearly two mostly entertaining hours.

Wendy Ginsberg and Jeremiah Ginsberg co-wrote the book, and Jeremiah Ginsberg wrote the music and lyrics, produced, and directed. Julien Benichou, artistic and general director of the Washington Opera Society, conducted a 20-piece orchestra producing a Broadway-like sound. Benichou was also featured with Gary Morgan (playing Mendel Moskowiz) in an entertaining song-and-dance number.

Carl Gudenius’ set included a screen placed center stage above and behind the orchestra with silhouettes that carried scenes between present-day Brooklyn, Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew), various sites in the Holy Land, and an empty tomb near Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. From the Holy Land, we then travel back to Brooklyn, where demons hatch a plan to bring Mendel Moskowiz to hell.

On the platform: Beau Davidson (Yeshua), Joel Ingram (Philip), John Berring (John), and Matthew Payne (Simon Peter) in ‘Messiah The Musical.’ Photo by Patricia McDougall.

The Ginsbergs reprised the role of Moskowiz from their previous musicals Rabboni (1994), Mendel and Moses (1997), and The Time of Mendel’s Trouble (2008) to guide the audience through the deliveryman’s dreams from Brooklyn to the Holy Land in Yeshua’s time. Veteran actor Morgan performs the role flawlessly. The Moskowiz character was first written in 1985 for Rabboni, which played Off-Broadway in New York City.

The problem in Washington, DC, was Morgan’s singing, or lack thereof. Morgan appeared to lip-synch the opening number, “If You Show Me the Road to Follow.”

However, the cast and dancers provide an electrifying performance of “The Spirit of the Lord God Is Upon Me.” This set the stage for a funny eternal battle between Yeshua (Beau Davidson) and Beelzebub (Stephen Len White).

White makes an impressive Old Scratch hatching plans to control the world as his kingdom. Beelzebub makes a reference to the torture chamber when Pride (Emma Gorin) gets out of line. The image on the screen mirrors a picture used in Rabboni.

As Yeshua, Davidson demonstrates the seriousness of the man, God, and the mission, empowering everyday fishermen and a prostitute to change the world. The character does this through example, compassion, and love.

John Berring (Guru Looie), DeAnn Trimarchi (Lust), Matt Tucker (Hate), Stephen Len White (Beelzebub), Emma Gorin (Pride), and Jamie DeOliveira (Liar) in ‘Messiah The Musical.’ Photo by Patricia McDougall.

My favorite number was “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit.” It involved the entire crew in a visual mix that brought the scene to life. As the Chief Pharisee (White) and Yeshua sing accusations and answers at each other, the cast and dancers sway back and forth as White and Davidson trade cues.

Jillian Sainz (Miriam of Magdala) and the accomplished Graciela Araya (Mother) combine as a dynamic duet on “I Found a Bright Shining Morning Star” and “Who Put the Seeds Down & Brought the Rain?” Sainz’s star looks bright.

Matt Tucker plays multiple roles but stands out as the demon Hate. Undergirded by pride, Tucker steals scenes with his voice, expressions, and body language. Matthew Payne showed off his baritone as Simon Peter with “A New Covenant.”

Gary Morgan (Mendel), Julien Benichou (Simeon), and the Ballet Magnificat Dancers ) in ‘Messiah The Musical.’ Photo by Patricia McDougall.

The plot is classic good versus evil. Triumphing Christ’s victory over death as he dies is a plot only a brilliant creative designer could employ. Exhilarating music, dance, orchestration, and fine acting make for a winning opera. Instead of seemingly aiming for a “Christian” audience, the production feels more like a great piece of art to be enjoyed by people of all backgrounds and faiths.

The Ginsbergs write what they call Biblical musicals with prophetic messages. Dancers from Ballet Magnificat contributed passion as well as expertise to the opera. Rather than promoting itself as a Christian ballet company — whatever that is supposed to be — it should bring the best dancers possible and let the art speak for itself.

The Ballet Magnificat Dancers in ‘Messiah The Musical.’ Photo by Patricia McDougall.

The Ginsbergs tell a wonderful, classic story that just happened to have a historical character, Yeshua, at its root. Jesus is not only considered the savior to many, but he is also acknowledged as a great teacher in other religions around the world. If this opera is to make it to Broadway, as the Ginsbergs pray it will, the art must carry it. This troupe looks like it could carry that load.

Running Time: Two hours including one 15-minute intermission.

Messiah the Musical in Concert played June 17, 18, and 19, 2022, presented by Jeremiah Theatricals performing at the George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st Street NW, Washington, DC.

Director: Jeremiah Ginsberg
Production Manager: Steven Koflanovich
Conductor: Julien Benichou
Stage Manager: Mel Markward
Music Director: Darrin Newhardt
Scenic Design: Carl Gudenius
Lighting Design: Alex Keen
Sound Design: Mike Golebiowski
Carolyn Paddock: Choreography
Ballet Magnificat Executive Director: Keith Thibodeaux
Ballet Magnificat Director: Kathy Thibodeaux

John Berring: John/Guru Looie
Beau Davidson: Yeshua
Jillian Sainz: Miriam of Magdala
Stephen Len White: Beelzebub/Chief Pharisee
Graciela Araya: Mother
Jamie Ellen DeOliveira: Liar/Salome
Emma Gorin: Pride/Wife
Joel Ingram: Fear/Philip
Gary Morgan: Mendel/Nathaniel
Matthew Payne: Simon Peter
Margaret Polglaze: Joanna
Jillian Sainz: Miriam
Gregory Scott Stuart: James/Caiphas
DeAnn Trimarchi: Operator/Lust
Matt Tucker: Hate/Pharisee/Pilate
Stephen Len White: Beelzebub/Chief Pharisee
Julien Benichou: Simeon
Musicians: Ahreum Kim, Christine Showalter, Jennifer Houck, Janet Kuperstein, Dorothy Couper, Sam Lam, Chris Chlumsky, Jennifer Szabo, Kathy Caesar-Spall, Qun Ren, Mark Hughes, Josh Carr, Chelsea Orr, Nick Mazziotti, Daniel Pendley, Joanna Huling, Dane Krich, Erin Baker


Act One
If You Show Me the Road to Follow (Mendel)
The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me (cast)
Bi-Dee Bi-Dee Bim Boom Boy (Simeon, Mendel Cast)
It’s Real Hot! (Beelzebub, Hate, Lust, Liar, Guru Looie, Pride, Fear)
If You Show Me the Road to Follow (Simon, James, John, Philip, Nathaniel, Yeshua)
The Shepard of Old (Miriam, Chief Pharisee, Pharisee, Wife, Yeshua, Cast)
Where Would You Be Without Me (Beelzebub, Demons)
I Found a Bright Shining Morning Star (Miriam, Mother, Cast)
A New Covenant (Simon)
Who Put the Seeds Down & Brought the Rain? (Mother, Miriam)

Act Two
If I Have No Love (Simon, Philip, John, James, Nathaniel, Yeshu)
Blessed Are the Poor In Spirit (Chief Pharisee, Pharisee, Yeshua, Disciples, Townspeople
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem (Yeshua)
The Last Days of Rome (Beelzebub, Demons)
My God, My God Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me? (Mendel, Yeshua, Caiphas, Pilate, off-stage voices)
Tatelah, Teteleh, Mine (Mother)
If a Man Should Die (Mother, Miriam, Joanna, Salome)
Yeshua Messiah (Yeshua, Mendel, Demons)
Messiah (Yeshua)


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