Born to uncertainty, destined for pain

Born to uncertainty, destined for pain March 14, 2019

This is from January (via Friendly Atheist): “Village churchgoers lose savings over failed musical.”

Members of a village church lost hundreds of thousands of pounds after the collapse of a religious musical that was supposed to tour arena venues.

Members of The International Church’s congregation said they were told giving to Heaven on Earth was “giving to God”.

The production, based on the story of Adam and Eve, was weeks from its first performance when it went bust with debts of £2.6m.

… Some of the congregation had reportedly remortgaged homes to help fund it.

Oy. This seems to be one of those stories involving both intentional grifters and others who were merely incompetent, unintentional, self-deceiving grifters carried away by quixotic dreams.

Here’s one of the expensively produced, yet still off-putting ads the church musical was running on TV in the UK:

Both the local church and the production company it formed for its “arena spectacular” are now bankrupt and in liquidation, but it seems unlikely that any of the congregants who donated some half a million pounds (about $660,000) will get their money back.

There can be a kind of innocently Guffman-esque delusion involved in this kind of misplaced ambition. But it can also be the product of a “sad-puppy“-style sense of entitlement and resentment — the idea that anything we do must inherently be just as good or even better than anything those evil, worldly other people do.

So how did this stink-bomb of a production manage to get legitimate “West End stars Kerry Ellis and Hugh Maynard” and “internationally renowned tenor Russell Watson” to sign on? Well … it’s work. Acting has always been a gig economy, and the promise of your next paycheck isn’t often something you can afford to turn down.

I suspect their involvement came about somewhat the same way that the late great Margot Kidder described her getting cast in the 2000 End Times Christian movie Tribulation:

I didn’t even know it was a Christian movie. Me and Howie Mandel were sitting there going “What happened to my character?” You know, they just offered us lots of money to do these things. I thought it was a mystery. So I’m on the set, and I’m going to Howie, “My character disappears. I don’t know what happened. I can’t find her in the script.” I was pretty cynical about that one. I was broke, so I needed the money. These people offered me a bunch of money to go to Toronto for a few days, and then suddenly this big limousine pulls up, and out walks this guy with about nine tons of hair, like [disgraced Illinois governor Rod] Blagojevich, but white-haired. And I said, “Who’s that?” “Oh,” say the producers, “that’s pastor such and such and such and such, and he gets a part in the movie, ’cause he sells them in his church.” And Howie and I went “What?” And then the penny dropped. It was like, “Oh my God.” And I said, “Wait a minute, what happens to my character?” And they went “Well, straight up in the Rapture.” And I went “The what?” And they explained the Rapture and the end times to me, and I went “Oh shit. I’m in one of these movies.” And I was with Howie, I believe. So that was pretty funny. I went “Oh my God, the joke’s on me here.” And I still get stopped by those freaky fundamentalists going “Oh, I’m so glad you did Tribulation.” And I wanna go, “Don’t count me into your group, honeybuns. I’m not one of you.”

I haven’t yet seen Tribulation, but it also stars Gary Busey and a pre-Continuum Erik Knudsen. The Blago-haired preacher Kidder described is either John Hagee or Jack Van Impe, who were both in the movie. Rexella, too, so this one’s definitely getting added to my list.*

Thanks to @jolenesdad for tipping me to that interview on Twitter by alerting me to Nathan Rabin’s fun encounter with Donald W. Thompson’s Christian cult classic A Thief in the Night. His summary of the experience is spot-on: “It feels like an alternate universe version of a funky New Hollywood movie only instead of dramatizing life on the fringes of American society it’s single-mindedly concerned with scaring audiences into giving their lives over to Jesus, and not in a bullshit, half-assed kind of way either.”

The weird appeal of Thompson’s low-budget movie is due, I think, to how earnestly and desperately driven he seems to hammer home his message. Setting aside the (unbiblical, heretical, incoherently bonkers) substance of his beliefs, it’s clear that this is what motivated his project — not the shallow triumphalism, arrogant entitlement, or delusions of stardom that mark so many other “Christian” dramatic presentations — from the God’s Not Dead franchise to that Heaven’s Gate On Earth the Church of Saints Bialystock & Bloom dreamed of producing in the UK.

The really weird aspect of that financially disastrous scheme by that British church is that we already have a perfectly serviceable musical based on the story of Adam and Eve. Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden is one of the longest-lived, most enduringly popular flops in the history of musical theater. The original show opened — and closed — in early 1991, garnering poor reviews and poor sales. Since then it’s been reworked and overhauled, and the new version is widely licensed. The “junior” edition is especially popular with community theaters because of its huge cast (lots of roles for lots of children mean lots of tickets sold to parents and grandparents).

The show is also popular with church groups in the same way that Schwartz’s Godspell is. (Which is to say that most normal Christians find it inspiring and edifying, while fundamentalists will complain that it doesn’t adhere to their preferred preconceptions imposed on the Bible then read back out of it in the name of “biblical literalism.” Such fundies also don’t tend to like either show because they involve dancing and also because fundies hate the theater in general anyway, so.)

This isn’t a great video, but Shezwae Powell brings it in this 1991 TV performance of the title song, the lyrics of which also provided the title to this post:

* Tribulation is also a great resource for the 666 Degrees of Separation game, which is like “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” only you’re trying to connect every actor back to the Antichrist.

Humphrey Bogart, for example. He was in Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn, who was in Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck, who was in The Omen (1976). That’s three steps, but no bonus points for including awful sectarian direct-to-video flicks like Tribulation.

You would earn bonus points for, say, connecting Julia Roberts to Denzel Washington in The Pelican Brief, then Denzel to Howie Mandel on St. Elsewhere, then Howie to the Antichrist in Tribulation.

It’s also fun to try to connect two different cinematic Antichrists. Nick Mancuso played the Antichrist in Tribulation with Margot Kidder, who was in The Great Waldo Pepper with a young Robert Redford (!), who was in [pick one] with Paul Newman, who was in Torn Curtain with Julie Andrews, who was in 10 with Dudley Moore, who was in Like Father, Like Son with Kirk Cameron, who was in Left Behind (1995) with Antichrist Gordon Currie.

Oops, that’s seven steps. Let’s try again: Gordon Currie to Ralph Macchio in Distant Thunder (not the Thief in the Night sequel A Distant Thunder), Macchio to Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinnie, Pesci to Tommy Lee Jones in JFK (with Kevin Bacon himself), and Tommy Lee Jones to Nick Mancuso (and Gary Busey again) in Under Siege. Only four steps!

That Currie-to-Macchio-to-Pesci route could also lead us to Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, which had to include an appearance by Donald Trump in order to get permission to shoot at his hotel, but never mind that. This game is only concerned with fictional antichrists.

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