As mentioned on our Facebook page, Above All has touched the lives of 100s. 156 people received the Holy Ghost for the first time, which is awesome and wonderful and worth of giving glory to God. However, hundreds of others were renewed in their walk with God, both in the audience and the cast. Several received their healing and an untold amount of people were forever touched by this dramatic representation of Christ. We've shared a lot of insights about what happened behind the scenes and in the lead up to the production. Today, we look back and share our thoughts on the actual production and we compare it to the first edition of Above All, which we reviewed also (it's our most popular post on the Compass Page). We hope you enjoy this look back at Above All and where it has come over the past two years.
What we said in 2015:
Above All is a dramatic retelling of Christ's last days on this Earth as presented by the Pentecostals of Alexandria (POA). In this production we are given an intimate window into the relationships Jesus Christ had with his closest followers and the conflict he had with his staunchest opponents. It culminates with his trial, punishment and crucifixion, stopping short of presenting the resurrection and ascension like in other productions at the POA and other churches.
This is pretty much the same in terms of the overall story told. The production does add an allusion to the resurrection at the beginning of the production, but still stops short of presenting it at the end. Also, several characters around Jesus are fleshed out more. Two characters taht were developed further are Judas and Peter. This development is exemplified in the bitterness Judas develops throughout and anguish that he represents at the Garden Scene. Above All juxtaposes this character arc with that of Peter. He develops a seething anger throughout the play that culminates with a sense of humility and remorse for denying Christ in his greatest trouble. This subtle contrast in characters helps the audience member to follow along with men who had close relationships with Christ, but who also chose different paths when facing adversity and mistakes they made. It's things like this that has made Above All a fuller and richer story.
What Makes Above All Great
What we said in 2015:
Pre-Show Prepares The Way
The production actually starts with a pre-show, encompassing two songs that set the tone of worship for the evening. By getting people into a mode of worship early, it helps to usher in the presence of God before the production even starts.
Dynamic Musical Presentation
The different methods of presenting the songs in the production helps to give each song its own identity. For example, Above All is performed by Mickey Mangun as she sits at a piano and is aided by a cellist. Meanwhile, Precious Lamb of God is performed while a video of Christ in the manger is presented and the singer, Andrea Hebron stands towards the back of the stage and is illuminated by a single light. Giving the viewer different presentations for each song allows for each song to stand on its own.
The Cross Finishes It
The decision to end the production at the cross left the viewer in a somber state and allowed their hearts to be open to the redemptive call of Christ. While some would argue that even a simple nod to the resurrection is in order, having the play end where it does is gripping and powerful. It leads people to a place of repentance and redemption, a core theme of the production.
Closing Remarks Reveals Anointing
Pastor Anthony Mangun's speech at the end of each performance has been unique and led by the Spirit. It is not a canned sales pitch, but the anointed words of a man who loves souls and reaching for those in need. His speech also reflects the anointing and spiritual work that went into Above All (the cast frequently broke out in prayer and the church fasted for the week leading up to the start of Above All). As a result, the altar has been full every night of Above All, something that no other POA production has been able to say.
All of these elements are present still. The opening preview has been shortened to one song, a fusion of the titular song Above All with Amazing Grace. This helps tighten up the opening of the story while still framing what the story is about and allowing the audience to settle in to their seats before the action starts.
The songs are still presented in varying formats. Some are done with just the singers on the stage. Others have the singers interact with the cast. This dynamic allows each song to feel unique and engages the audience on different levels.
The cross still finishes the story. It is still very gripping and powerful. However, this year, the cross scene is further elongated to allow the reactions of Christ's closest followers to permeate the auditorium. You can see and feel the sorrow of Mary the mother of Jesus and the conflict of the Centurion. These and other fleshed out reactions deepens that gripping feeling from 2 years ago and has people on the edge of their seat for the altar call rather than checking their phones for when it is a good time to leave.
Pastor's final remarks are even more personalized this year. What was further unique was the development of testimonies of what had happened throughout the production. If you had a ticked to the last production, you got to hear all of what Christ had done in the altar in the previous performances. This helped to build people's faith and made them realize that they could get something from God, too.
Other things that made Above All Great include the further development of other characters. the depth of Christ's conversation at the Last Supper was expanded, allowing that scene to go to deeper places and grip people more than feel like a transition scene. The addition of scenes at the beginning helped to break up the opening video, making it feel less like a movie experience and more immersive for the audience. They added the triumphal entry (they actually added it last year), which was one of my detractors from the original review. The spiritual anointing that was on the cast. It was there in all of the years, but being a part of the cast allowed me to directly feel and involve myself in that anointing. It was like nothing I had felt before.
What I Wish They Would Have Done
What we said in 2017:
No Temple Cleansing
The Temple Cleansing is recognized by most as the central tipping point in Christ's ministry. Though the Sanhedrin and the Jewish hierarchy had long been against Jesus, it was the Temple incident that finally gave them the ammunition needed to take to the Romans and the common people. Not having it in the play leaves the production without a primary point of conflict. The production does include conflict (the Pharisees conspiring, the bribing of Judas, Who Is He scene, and To Whom Shall We Go scene), these don't have quite the impact the Temple Cleansing has Also, in the Bible, after the Temple cleansing, Christ welcomes in those who are in need of miracles and teaching. This would have been an excellent opportunity to show a side of that story that is rarely presented.
Modern Man: good but a little confusing
The use of modern characters, while interesting and effective, confuses the viewer at first. Plus, none of the characters are given a back story, which would have helped the viewer relate to them better. Still, by the end of the play, the importance of using modern characters is evident and important to the productions main theme: Christ came for all of us, not just for those back then. This is a powerful element of the production, it just comes across as confusing at first. Otherwise, it's effective.
Last Supper Intimacy
In the Last Supper scene, the production relies on a background that doesn't fit the intimacy of that moment. Utilizing a black background with soft lighting settings would have given the scene a greater solemnity. This is just a nitpick, but the production does present personal connection to Jesus as a primary theme and the background doesn't quite hold with that motif.
First, did they address these perceived issues?
Temple Cleansing Addressed
They added the temple cleansing scene and included some more interaction between Judas and the priests to further that betrayal story line. There was even a scene at Bethany that helped to frame the beginning of Judas' betrayal. All of this helped to add conflict, which made the production have a better relation to the audience than in the first year. It is worth noting, that many of these additions were made in last year's production.
Modern Man Fleshed Out
The modern man story has been addressed, too. Even though there are several modern people in the production, there has been a focus on one individual character. He goes through the last seven days of Jesus, witnessing all of the actions and words of Christ and ultimately coming to repentance and relationship with Jesus at the cross. Most of these changes were made last year, but it has been furthered this year and shows that the Above All writing crew is willing to adapt to make one of their most unique elements better.
Last Supper Overcomes Bad Background
The Last Supper Scene still has the ridiculously large background, but the expansion of Christ's dialogue with the disciples along with their reactions has made this scene a lot tighter and more intimate. Just please get rid of that background!
1. A new issue was the opening priest dialogue. The scene is one of the first major dialogues set solely in Christ's time and it takes a while to get going. Perhaps its the back and forth between serious dialogue and a little over the top acting, but the scene seems to drag, but is saved by the Triumphal Entry.
2. The Who is He scene also seems a little out of nowhere and takes too much time. It includes a split stage with modern people discussing God on one side and Jewish people in Christ's day discussing Jesus on the other. This scene does frame the modern man and his journey, but the Jewish section of the scene seems to be more telling than showing. Perhaps having a crowd of Jews reacting to Jesus healing a person with some saying he is the Messiah while others claiming him a prophet and others a heretic would help build that tension better than just discussing Jesus out in a field.
Best Scene: Clean
This is the scene right when Jesus dies. The use of living pictures at various points while Sister Mickey sings and walks among the cast is a powerful image. It is then broken by the somber groan of Christ's sympathizers when they come alive and weep at his lifeless body hanging on the cross. Having the scene bathed in blue highlights the sorrow and loneliness of the scene even as the song talks about the power of Christ's death to heal us. The scene ends with the piercing of Christ with the spear and the special effect of blood trickling down his body while the whole cast is still is powerful and moving.
Last time, we said it was the Garden scene. It is still a very powerful scene that shows just how anxious and lonely Christ felt. Being up there on stage when Jesus looks at me, I can feel it. It's powerful. It's just that the way Clean is presented is so gripping and hopeful even in the midst of a desperate moment.
Best Song: Clean performed by Sister Mickey Mangun.
The song goes so well with the scene and it's really this point where so many people were won over by the message Above All was presenting.
Last time, we said it was Still Believe performed by Kara Williams. It is still a powerful song and goes along with some of the most gripping scenes. However, Clean takes us from believing to desiring.
Best Effect: The whole crucifixion effects once Christ is at Golgatha.
This year, the effects crew really outdid themselves in this scene. Not only were their closeup prerecorded video shots of Christ with the cross that allowed the whole audience to get a good look at Christ's suffering, there was lightning flashes, perfectly timed background music and sound effect sequences, and lighting effects that made the whole moment of Christ's suffering feel very uncomfortable for the audience in a good way. We should feel uncomfortable at the cross. It should be hard to look at. Because that is our Savior up there dying for us. Because of us. Because he loves. And that is what Above All is all about.
Last time, we said it was the background effects in Come As You Are performed by Tim Freeman. That song is no longer included in Above All. I'll miss that song, but a couple of other great songs were added this year that weren't there before and they have helped Above All develop into a deeper and more profound production and representation of Christ's last days.
We hope you enjoyed this review. Please consider making plans to attend Above All next year. We'll return to update and review it when it does.
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.