Church musical gives new twist on Bible

April 21, 1991
Green Bay Press-Gazette
Warren Gerds

A church mounting an original, cohesive large-cast musical is out of the ordinary.

Due to extraordinary talent and motivation, it has happened for the second year at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Green Bay First Ward.

This year, the musical is He is Risen! It was presented nightly at the church Thursday through Saturday. Next weekend, it goes “on the road” for two performances at a Mormon meetinghouse in Appleton.

He is Risen! is not a church pageant, though it has some of those traits.

It’s the biblical story of the ascension set to contemporary music, which is consistently attractive and melodious.

Much of the text comes from the New Testament of the Bible, while the music comes from the pen, computer, synthesizer and gifts of Wanda Sieber.

“Church Lady Makes Musical” does not tell the full tale. Not with a cast that hovers near 50 (not counting a handful of infants making “cameos” in one number) and contains good soloists and an overall full-bodied sound. Not with carefully planned lighting effects. Not with the sophistication of cordless microphones for all the soloists.

He is Risen! has a mixed blessing in mixing the old and the new. Despite earnest narration by Rue Johnson, his words are from the Bible, which was not built for cueing songs.

In her songs, Sieber strikes many appealing chords. The ballads Hold That Child and Feed My Sheep are touching. Is He Real? is thoughtful, with Bruce Burton especially effective as Thomas, the doubting apostle. Praise the Lord! has the fire of gospel music; it features an eager solo by directory Lynna Burton. Sieber is reminiscent of an energized pop star when she’s featured in Where is Jesus Now?

The cast is deep in ability and commitment.

The whole experience of He is Risen! has the aura that this is something special. You don’t get a large number of people involved on stage unless they feel they are doing something of merit.

Working with the wonders of Wanda Sieber, they are.