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Behind Making Jonah On Stage Musical

By May 01, 2017 , ,

After packing movie theaters across the country, the hit musical--Jonah: On Stage!--will return to cinemas for a one-time encore matinee.

Jonah On Stage Musical Fathom Events Matinee

Filmed in front of a live audience at Sight & Sound Theatres in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, JONAH: On Stage! brings to life the journey of this lovable, yet stubborn prophet. This spectacular performance offers delightful humor, cinematic music, massive sets, amazing costumes and a breath-taking underwater scene featuring a huge 40-foot whale—with one big appetite!

Audiences will also get an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the history of Sight & Sound Theatres, whose live stage shows have been seen by more than 22 million visitors worldwide.

To learn more about JONAH: On Stage! and what it took to bring it to the big screen, I interviewed Kathy Miller, Corporate Communications Manager and oldest grandchild of Sight & Sound’s founders. Katie was the first member of the family’s third generation to officially work within the organization.

In the beginning of Jonah: On Stage! there's background info about Jonah's life that weren't in the traditional biblical story. How you came up with this extra info?

Jonah On Stage Musical Fathom Events Matinee

Kathy Miller: Sure. We often say that the stories we present are fictional accounts of true stories. So we do take some creative license when we're creating our story line to develop characters and things like that. With Jonah, as well know as the story of Jonah is, the entire book of Jonah is very short. Just a few chapters. We needed to create some of the conflict as to why he hated the Ninevites so deeply. We don't really know why he hated them, other then his people hated them.

But with how drastic the biblical account is of how much, even after Nineveh is saved and he's still there and he's angry about the plant, and the lord is still trying to get through to his heart. It felt to us that there was something very personal there to him. We knew that there has been a lot of conflict between the Ninevites and the Israelites, so for us it was about creating that character development in him and understanding who he was.

In all of our shows, no matter what story we're presenting, it's really important for us to be able to convey to our audience that these biblical characters we're people. They were people just like us that GOD used.

So lot of time as we're developing the stories, we want to be able to share that personal side to them, that sometimes the biblical accounts doesn't always get as detailed with.

Did you pull more of Jonah's family info from a peculiar place or was it just creative license?

Kathy Miller: While that piece of it would have been creative license, we do lots of research for our show to the point that we've had our creative teams travel to the holy lands and meet with bible scholars. We want to make sure that the parts of the story that are written in the bible, are presented in a way that's very truthful.

But we do take some creative license on some of the back stories sometimes, because at the end of the day, we have a full show that we want people to be engaged in.
And it's really the message of the story and the message of what's in the bible that we want people to walk away with. Some of those extra specifics, as long as they're upholding the broader message of the story, for us that's the piece that's important.

Can you talk a little about the visuals displays, including the under water scene and the whale.

Kathy Miller: We have a wonderful and talented team that comes together. We're very unique as a theater company, in that we do everything in house. Everything from costumes, set design, script writing and the animal training, everything we do here right on site with our teams. So there's a lot of collaborations in what we're doing.

And we want to be able to tell the story through all of the aspects of the show. So we don't just put animals in the show, for animals sake.

Right because there's a Skunk in there. I wasn't sure why there's a Skunk.

Kathy Miller: For us that was really intentional. Because if you notice a lot of the animals that Jonah encounters, their black and white because it was the way that he saw the world. Very black and white. And there was not any room for mercy in his life.

So he keeps encountering these animals or these characters that are either stubborn or in his way. He's not slowing down to experience the world, the way that the LORD want him to experience the world. He ignores a group of children playing, and that's when he encounters the skunk because he's not being obedient. The WORD keeps putting these roadblocks and he's ignoring all of them to the point that he's having a conversation with a stubborn donkey, not realizing that he's himself is the stubborn one.

That comedic engaging aspect of what were able to do and how we tell the stories, is really what people walk away talking about. A lot of times they don't even realize how we all have that, we all have the aspects that we're stubborn and not making choices the way that the lord would have us live. And in his mercy, he intercedes for us and with us sometimes, even if it's in the form of a donkey.

Our set pieces are three story high and very detailed, which is one of the aspects we love the most about the opportunity to present the show on stage and on film. You get to see the camera provide a up-close detail look at some of the craftsmanship in our costumes and set pieces. And even the emotion on actors faces, it's a different perspective then what you get to experience when you see it live in the regular theater. It's just a different perspective and one that we're trilled to be able to present.

Why bring Jonah: On Stage! to screen after having success with the live stage show.

Kathy Miller: For us it was about providing a different opportunity. We completely realize that not everyone can come to Lancaster, PA or Branson, MO to have a live experience. But we are so passionate about these bible stories and the messages in them. We want to provide opportunities for people to have a sight and sound experience and hear the message of these stories in their own backyard, with their families and with their communities.

So this felt like a great opportunity to try it differently. Like I said it's not the same experience as seeing it live, because the whale can't actually fly over your head, however it's a different perspective. One that has it's own value to it, to be able to experience a different side of the emotional aspect of what we do.

Challenges bring it to screen versus live on stage? 

Kathy Miller: It is the same experience. We actually filmed it in front of a live audience and that special effect specifically with Jonah in the belly of the Whale is a combination of multi disciplines and effects. There's media projection involved in that as well as an actual set piece, along with a screen, actor and things like that.

So what you see on the screen really is true to what you'd see in the theater itself. Although there was a few small modifications to some lightning, just to make some scene brighter and things like that. We did not make an significant alterations to the show itself, when we filmed it.

Like I said it was filmed in front of a live audience watching the show, with 8 different cameras to capture all the different angles and edit together as seamlessly as we could to provide the best experience in a cinema setting.

We had been filming shows for years, even before we filmed Jonah on Stage, just for the purpose of home entertainment. So our guest who come on site could take the experience with them to share with their friends and families in their own homes.

So capturing it on film, was not something new to us when we filmed Jonah, we'd already been it for a number of years.

Jonah is a Hebrew story but I the tone of Jonah on Stage leaned more towards being Christian, especially with the Jesus add-in at the end. What was the creative choices made there.

Kathy Miller: We believe that all the bible stories we present, whether from the old or new testament, are pointing towards the story of Christ. The bible is one cohesive book that begins with GOD the Alpha and Omega and ends with him in the same way. And Jesus is the fulfillment of the old testament.

So that is an aspect that is tied into all of our stories.

Having the songs being part of the storytelling?

Kathy Miller: The music aspect of what we do is really important. We don't have a live orchestra for the shows that we do so we work with an outside composers. For Jonah we had a couple of different composers that worked on that music. So the composing of the music isn't we do in house.

Most of our shows would be considered musicals because of the music in them. We recorded Jonah in the Czech Republic by Prague Symphony Orchestra after the music was written. We really wanted the calabra of the music and the excellence of it really match the special effects and other aspects of what we do.

What do you want families going to see Jonah: On Stage to take away from it?

Kathy Miller: We hope for any Sight and Sound experience, whether Jonah in the movie theater or in either of our locations, there's nothing that's more meaningful to us then when our guest and families walk away, first of all having had a really great experience being together with people they care about.

And then secondly, when we hear that they go home and search the scriptures for themselves. We love hearing guest comments saying "I went home and read the book of Jonah, I just wanted to see your interpretation of it"

If at the end of the day we can have people walking away thinking differently about these bible stories and searching them out themselves, then we feel like we've done our part. We can present the stories and do our best to be honorable to what they are.

So our hope is that people walk away thinking differently about Jonah and realizing that he was a man that wasn't perfect. GOD still used him in the midst of not being a perfect person, just like all of us.

Do you have a favorite scene or part of putting it together?

Kathy Miller: I have 3 children and for me there's nothing quite like watching their faces during the underwater scene. When the little fish are floating around, and the jelly fish comes out the ceiling, then the whale comes out, it's just an experience that you can't get anywhere else.

My children have seen Jonah a number of times and that scene is still so magical to them. They absolutely love it. So that's one of my favorite aspects, is being able to come to work everyday and do this thing. But also to see the work that we do reflected in the eye of my own children is just a gift that I'm so grateful for.

Get ready for a jaw-dropping adventure for the whole family as one of the Bible’s biggest stories comes to life in Sight & Sound’s JONAH: On Stage!

When God calls Jonah to offer mercy and forgiveness to the people of Nineveh, he runs straight … in the opposite direction! As is often the case, one bad choice leads to another and soon Jonah’s “get-away” ship is on the verge of destruction amidst a terrible storm. To save themselves, the ship’s crew tosses Jonah overboard … and into the waiting mouth of one ginormous fish.

But as Jonah discovers, God is always willing to offer anyone another chance—Ninevites and run-away prophets alike! Experience the hit musical that more than 1 million people have enjoyed at Sight & Sound as JONAH: On Stage! plays in select cinemas only on Tuesday, May 2.

The original live stage production Jonah debuted in 2012 at Sight & Sound’s theater in Lancaster then transferred to Branson for the 2014-15 season. An encore season in Pennsylvania runs this year, March through October 2017. As an audience favorite, Jonah’s flow to the movie screen was a natural next step.

“Sight & Sound is here to engage the hearts and minds of our audiences with stories from the Bible,” Josh Enck, executive producer of the show and chief creative officer of Sight & Sound, said. “There’s tremendous demand for these shows, but not everyone can come to our theaters. So this ‘overflow’ onto movie screens is a great way to help more people have a Sight & Sound Theatres experience.”

Learn more, visit - www.sight-sound.com

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