Rapturepalooza; or, There Sure Are a Lot of NYC Productions about Christianity

A little over a month ago, we were threatened with the Rapture. Earthquakes were supposed to destroy the world around 5PM, though the exact time zone was never specified. This didn't happen. However, I am willing to jump on the Rapture bandwagon and propose a tenuous connection between Harold Camping's billboard blitz and the recent resurgence of Bible-themed productions hitting the NYC stages. Even if it is a coincidence, there just seems to have been a larger than normal density of Christian-themed or inspired shows in the area. Last fall, playwright/actor Charles Busch put on a well-reviewed run of his nun-spoof The Divine Sister. This play saw him don a habit as all the cliches of nun-based theater--singing nuns, dancing nuns, nuns in peril, nuns questioning their faith, nuns becoming governesses, etc.--were skewered and adhered to in a way that only Charles Busch can do. It closed 20 days before the alleged Rapture.

Another nun play made it all the way to Broadway. High was a bit more risque in subject matter. A nun is put in charge of a young drug addict's therapy and rehabilitation program, which only pushes her to danger of falling back into her old habits as well. The show did not receive great reviews, had poor box office performance, and closed 27 days before The Rapture.

More nuns arrived on Broadway around the same time. Sister Act, the musical about the rising disco diva forced into a convent to protect her as the key witness for the prosecution in a murder trial, opened 20 April, 31 days before the Rapture. The new hymns might not be canon, but they are praising his name eight times a week in the guise of fluffy family entertainment.

Don't just assume that nuns are the only inhabitants making me wary of Rapturepalooza. A controversial musical just opened Off-Broadway. The Magdalene, based on the Gnostic gospels that present Mary Magdalene as Jesus' most dedicated disciple (and sometimes lover), opened with a bang when the Anti-Defamation League demanded the script be re-written to address alleged issues of antisemitism. It is novel for a musical about Jesus in that it's focused more on the actual storytelling than the method of storytelling.

Speaking of method of storytelling, two more Christianity-derived musicals are Broadway-bound. Godspell is actually holding its open casting call today to flesh out the cast. This experimental musical sways through various stories of the bible to paint a picture of faith in a meta-theatrical way. For example, in a song that is often cut from recent productions of the show, the cast enters one by one, posing as various philosophers throughout history. They sing bits and pieces of the philosophy, all at the same time, creating an unintelligible field of sound. The song is called "Tower of Babel (Prologue)" and is a modern spin on the tale of the origin of languages. Previews begin 13 October (8 days before the real Rapture according to new calculations).

While not official yet, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar seems to have a good shot of returning to Broadway. There is a production of the rock musical about the final days of Jesus running at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Toronto that is weighing its options regarding a Broadway transfer. The Toronto run closes seven days after the revised Rapture. At the same time, Webber himself is looking at creating the definitive touring production of the show. One of these two versions seems to be a shoe-in for a Broadway revival.

Do I really think musicals and plays about Christianity popping up all over the place in NYC is a sign of the Rapture? Or even inspired by it? No. But it was an interesting theme to carry me through a few recent, new, and upcoming productions close to my home.

Are you interested in any of these new or upcoming productions? Any biblical plays or musicals you want to see produced in your area? I'd love to see Children of Eden get a non-concert/non-benefit run in NYC, myself. Sound off below.

Betty Blue Eyes

Sister Rosetta Tharpe