MUNSTER | The curtain went up Friday night on Family Christian Center’s 26th annual production of “Jesus of Nazareth.”
The play, written and directed by FCC Pastor Steve Munsey, continues tonight as well as Good Friday and Easter Saturday. The production literally has a cast of thousands when one includes actors, support staff, ushers, parking organizers, concession stand hosts and technicians, all of whom volunteer their time.
After 26 years, the show is more popular than ever, said Pam Ross, FCC’s director of leadership development. “We always do it around the season,” she said. People are looking to honor and remember the sacrifice of Jesus.”
Prior to Friday’s curtain time, FCC was swarming with actors and volunteers of all ages. In one of the dressing rooms, Chris Denton, of Schererville, took his turn in the makeup chair as he prepared to portray Jesus. Denton has been the play’s star for six years, and finds his role very humbling.
“Kids come up to me and say 'Hey, Jesus,'” he said, noting it reminds him his character is at the center of everything, and that he can be a mentor or a leader while he’s doing the part. The production is always hard work, “But it’s well worth it.”
In another dressing room, Julio Nolasco, of Riverdale, waited to be transformed into Judas Iscariot. Nolasco has played several different roles in past productions, including a soldier and the High Priest. But Judas is by far his favorite.
He said the role is very challenging. “I have to put aside my personal feelings about Jesus” in order to play the man who betrays him, Nolasco said.
Backstage, a host of technicians were putting finishing touches on the play’s elaborate set. The movable set, which is reused every year, depicts the Jordan River, the temple in Jerusalem, and the dais from which Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus to crucifixion.
Opening night drew church groups from as far away as Chicago. The crowded auditorium was asked to “give it up for Jesus on Palm (Sunday) weekend,” before the curtain went up.
The production begins with a joyous and crowded song and dance celebration near the River Jordan. The celebration is interrupted by the high priests, who denounce John the Baptist. Jesus makes a quiet entrance, asking John to baptize him.
The arrival of King Herod also coincides with the first appearance of one of the show’s many animal actors. A white horse is at the head of Herod’s chariot and takes the king and his wife away after John is arrested. Outside the theater, meanwhile, two camels that came all the way from Wisconsin for the show readied for their big scene in the Jerusalem marketplace. The camels were joined onstage by donkeys, goats, sheep and other animal extras.
Family Christian Center’s production included plenty of special effects, several of which were deployed during Jesus’ temptation in the desert. St. Michael the Archangel and Lucifer fly overhead, and St. Michael has smoke, pyrotechnics and fire on his side.
The play follows Jesus through his arrest and crucifixion, and ends with his resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Today’s performance of Jesus of Nazareth is a matinee show beginning at noon. On Friday, the evening performance begins at 7:30 p.m. A second matinee will be performed April 19 beginning at noon.
For more information, call Family Christian Center at (219) 922-6500, ext. 580. The church is at 340 W. 45th St. in Munster.