Editor's Note: This is a review we did several year's back. If you would like the updated review about the most recent Above All Production, click here. Get all of the Above All recaps and updates here.
What Is Above All?
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.
The dramatic production is accompanied by dynamic video projections and contemporary music that work to both transition the story and provide the viewer with multiple layers of understanding for each scene. Another wrinkle in the production is the inclusion of modern people, not just as spectators, but as players who interact with the other cast members. It's clear that POA was looking to go a different route from Messiah. How did they fair?
What Makes Above All Great
Above All was a compelling production and professional presentation. There was so many good things to witness, it was hard to limit the positives to just a few. However, here are the few things I felt were the most important to note:
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.
What I Wish They Would Have Done
While the production runs smoothly throughout and the production is professionally presented, there are a few items that could have further enhanced Above All:
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.
Best Scene: The Garden.
It's here where the viewer really connects with the anguish of Christ and the presence of God begins to grow thicker in the sanctuary. You can almost see the drops of blood pouring out of Jesus the way that he cries out near the end of the scene.
Best Song: Still Believe performed by Kara Williams.
As we are presented with scenes of Christ's suffering, Kara Williams belts this song out with a passion unequaled. The viewer is overcome with the cost of Christ's cause as each living picture is presented and each verse describes the power of Christ's blood that was shed for us.
Best Effect: The video during Come As You Are, performed by Tim Freeman.
The entire back wall of the sanctuary lit up with an animation following through the lyrics as Tim Freeman sings this heartfelt ode. The graphics in the video are cool and seem to envelop the viewer as the lyrics speak peace and comfort into their lives.
Above All is a masterful and unique presentation of Christ's last days. While lacking an important scene from the original history and the slight confusion of the modern characters, this production hits home unlike any other presentation of the life of Christ. It presents Jesus as the willing sacrifice for each of us individually. It does this with intimate scenes of Christ and his followers, songs with lyrics that connect us to Christ that are uniquely presented, all backed up by an anointing on the cast, the pastor and the church.
If you haven't seen Above All, make plans next year as tickets are sold out. The anointing that permeates the room before, during and after the production is unlike any other you'll feel. It's an intimacy that only comes from unified prayer, fasting and purpose. The POA fulfilled that call in the lead up to Above All, and God has blessed them with the reward of his presence touching both the church and their community. Come next year believing that God will inspire you to do the same in your church and community.
✭✭✭✭1/2 out of 5 stars
Check out the video below to see some of the highlights from Above All:
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.