Though we put this musical in the Easter category, Joy Unspeakable is a rare musical that can actually be performed nearly any time of the year. In fact, when it premiered at the Rocky Hock Playhouse in Washington, NC in 2009 it was done in the fall and worked beautifully. Jesus is a prominent character in the musical and thousands of people saw the production. However, there was not a single questioning comment from anyone with regard to the season in which it played. The show opens with a big musical number. The title song, “Joy Unspeakable,” is a show stopper in its own right. Virtually every cast member, except Jesus, participates. The opening lyrics set up the premise for the entire show:
Right from the start He was no typical stranger.
Meeting Jesus was a total life-changer,
It’s a joy unspeakable; unspeakable joy, joy!
And everybody has a different story;
So many empty lives now full of glory,
It’s a joy unspeakable; unspeakable joy, joy, joy!
The musical unfolds as various characters recount their experiences, both past and present, with Jesus. Following the opening number Mary (Jesus’ mother), James, John, and their mother Simone are waiting near the city gates for Jesus to join them. It is established immediately that Simone, a comic relief character, is a doting and demanding woman living her life through her two sons. As they wait the conversation turns to the miracle Jesus performed of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Each character recounts (with enthusiasm) the miracle from their personal vantage point. Jesus enters in time to ward off a confrontation by James and John. His presence seems to calm everyone and He jests with all of them about their impatience. Mary Magdalene then enters as she tries to escape the [offstage] mob that want to stone her for adultery. Jesus addresses the mob and asks that life changing question, “Is there a man among you, holy and blameless; who is without sin? If so, let him cast the first stone at this woman.” Jesus tells Mary that she must be born again. Her life is changed…instantly.
The following scene plays well and is cleverly written. The Cana couple (as we call them) experienced a great deal of joy at their wedding. All of it was due to Jesus’ presence there and because of the great miracle he performed for them by turning plain water into fine wine (“wedding punch” in our story). The fun loving couple, Jed and Suzanna, is from “southern Galilee” and the scene was written to be played having the actors use southern American accents. The audience loves it. Jed and Susanna are easy going, relaxed, and genuine. Both recount their memories of meeting, falling in love, and of course experiencing the joy of Jesus saving the family the embarrassment of running out of “punch” at their wedding by performing that very first miracle. The scene finishes with a fitting and witty duet called “Jesus in the Middle” that helps tell the story and teach a great lesson in life. Everything you do has a better chance of succeeding if you take time to put “Jesus in the middle” of it all.
Next is a moving scene in which the character (we’ve named Daniel) is introduced. Daniel is the paralyzed man spoken of in the second chapter of Mark. His friends took pity on him and one day carried him to Jesus in hope that he would be healed. Daniel tells his very personal story to the audience and shares the glorious but embarrassing details of being lowered down through a hole in the roof by his friends. Jesus, he tells the audience, taught the crowd a great lesson about healing, pity, perseverance, and the power of God to forgive through his incredible story. Daniel’s solo, “A Thread of Hope” is haunting and poignant. Peter and his mother in law (Jara) are also introduced in this scene.
Mary and her son Jesus begin the next scene. Mary is concerned that Jesus is weary and should rest. He tells her that His time on earth is short and that there is too much to do to slow down. There is a powerful foreshadowing of his pending death in the dialogue. After Jesus leaves, Mary is left to ponder her life and her own unique relationship with Jesus. She pleads with God for insight as she sings “He’s My Son.” The final lyrics in the song are heart wrenching:
Father in Heaven, I know He’s Yours;
But for this moment, let Him be mine!
He’s my son. He’s my son too.
And I love our Son.
The next scene features Jara (the name we’ve given to Peter’s mother in law). She is an older woman who says exactly what she thinks, as older folks sometimes do, and often embarrasses Peter. She is a comic relief character who also speaks words of wisdom that come from years of trust and faith in God. In this scene Jara shares her story of being healed by Jesus after a near-death experience because of a high fever. The other characters sit in awe as she tells about this wonderful miracle in her own unique and tender way. Act I ends by Mary Magdalene sharing that she too was revived by the words and life of Jesus and that her life is now also full of “unspeakable joy.” The cast reprise the title song.
In Act II the focus shifts and is now on Jesus and the close relationship he has with His mother, Mary Magdalene, John, James, and their mother Simone; those whose stories all tie in closely with the scenes leading up to the time of His death.
It begins with a light-hearted scene in which James and John’s mother tries to convince Jesus that her boys should be placed on His left and right when seated in Heaven. Jesus deals with them by telling about the obligation they each have here on earth to first be an example to everyone and to “become a servant to all.” The mood then becomes more somber and the tone changes.
Mary Magdalene and Simone then share a few moments alone on the porch together. Mary regrets her former life and Simone shares that everyone has done things they are not proud of and wish they could change. After Simone leaves Mary is left to lament her past and sings a chilling song entitled “A Stone’s Throw Away.” The opening lyrics:
Lying broken on the ground; a lost soul just waiting to be found.
My life a shattered, empty shell; no way to escape this living hell.
But when I ran away that day, I fell at Jesus’ feet,
Not caring what this stranger would say.
I thought He bowed His head to pray, while at His feet I lay,
Knowing that my fate was just a stone’s throw away.
Following this Jesus gathers with his disciples and friends and shares several brief parables with them about sewing, reaping, and loving their neighbors as themselves. He then looks at each of them as He sings, “Do you believe in me.” The characters all respond with sincerity and assure him they do. It is a very moving (and telling) moment.
This musical can be done with or without a crucifixion. The original production had a brief crucifixion which was accomplished in a dim light while various characters lamented His death in silhouette. (These options are explained fully in the DIRECTOR’S NOTES that come with the PRODUCTION KIT for this musical.) The final scenes are appropriate whether or not the crucifixion took place on stage. Each character, in turn, briefly tells about their experience as Jesus was crucified; where they were, what they were thinking, and of the hopelessness they each felt. Following this they each tell part of the story regarding Jesus’ burial and subsequent resurrection. The principle characters are then joined by the entire cast as their stories conclude. The show finishes with the jubilant and triumphant anthem entitled “The Master Has Risen.”
Each character whose story is told was carefully selected and included in this musical. There is a thread of truth and continuity that runs throughout the entire show as a result. As with all well written musicals the audience is taken on a wonderful emotional roller coaster. The comedy and drama are in perfect balance. The comic characters of Jara and Simone are offset by those more sullen (though riveting) characters of Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. Jesus is by no means a comic character but he is made very “real” through the dialogue and songs in this show and the audience comes away feeling they have seen a glimpse of the “non-Hollywood” Jesus they know in their hearts. The music and lyrics help tell the story. It’s well crafted, beautiful, reverent when necessary, and fitting in every instance. The final number (“The Master Has Risen”) usually gets everyone in the audience out of their chairs and up on their feet.
The running time of this musical is about 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes. It can be shortened with simple cuts in several of the longer scenes. There are eleven powerful songs in the show counting reprises. Included are solos, a trio, and many powerful choral numbers.
Cast of Characters
Mary* (Mother of Jesus)
* Principle Character
Unlimited number of male and female chorus members.
THE USE OF A CHORUS
A chorus can easily be incorporated into this musical. Though not used in the original production a chorus of virtually any size could be added to a number of the scenes throughout the musical. These possibilities are all explained in the DIRECTOR’S NOTES.
As a point of interest, (and so you know it is possible), in the original production the following roles were played by the same actors:
1. Jesus and Daniel.
2. John, Jed, and Peter.
3. Susanna and Jara.
Doubling roles is accomplished with makeup, wigs, and costumes. We mention this because it demonstrates the possibility of doing a larger scale show such as this with a relatively small cast if desired. (The original cast was made up of three men and four women.) The show is very versatile and you can easily utilize several dozen actors in this production by simply adding a chorus, disciples, and not having actors play dual roles. A larger cast would make many of the scenes and songs much more powerful both visually and vocally.
SET AND PROP REQUIREMENTS
As with all of our musicals, the sets can be very simple with only minimal scenery—leaving it up to the audience to “fill in the blanks.” Depending on the size of your stage you can easily build two free standing, double sided, 4X8 wall pieces that can be moved around throughout the production and used in multiple scenes. The construction of these walls is uncomplicated and explained in the DIRECTOR’S NOTES. Simple pillars can be made and used for the city gate scene. The garden scene, Simone’s porch, Daniel’s home, Jed and Susanna’s porch, etc., can all be managed by simply rearranging furniture, using different table clothes, and making use of artificial plants and trees. Again, this information, and dozens of other production helps are all found in the DIRECTOR’S NOTES which come as part of the MUSICAL PRODUCTION KIT. Sample pictures of sets used in the original production of this, and many other Gloria Emmerich musicals, can be found by going to the photo gallery on this website.