Is it fair to “review” a church pageant? Probably not, unless it’s as ambitious as AWAITED, Crossroads’ Christmas spectacle. This artistic retelling of the Biblical nativity is in its 7th year and crowds just keep getting bigger and bigger. According to this article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, they had 22,000 seats filled the first year. In the 24 hour period when tickets went live this year, they “sold out” 100,000. And deservedly so.
AWAITED starts like a sermon, with Senior Pastor Brian Tomes wrapping himself in chains while talking about the metaphorical ones of sin. He leaves the stage and we head to the Garden of Eden. Adam, Eve, and other creatures of Earth dance joyfully until Satan tempts them with sin. Things then become very dark until Jesus’s birth. Even the ballet number featuring Mary and Joseph is quite somber, demonstrating the tension that must have come from the unbelievable Immaculate Conception and Joseph’s distrust and sense of betrayal. Also, I was especially moved by the joy from the Three Kings who were following the Christmas Star and enjoyed the shepherd’s segment a lot.
From a theatrical standpoint, the show starts out good, with lots of energy and visual appeal but runs out of steam towards the end as it becomes more concert and less performance. I’d have loved to see a better song in place of “Rejoice,” and a longer celebration sequence featuring better use of the choir and perhaps something with a gospel influence to really send folks out dancing to the parking lot. (All the music is “original,” though lyrically influenced by traditional carols and musically influenced by the sound of modern worship songs. Some of them are very good, others are just OK. The performances, though, are consistently better than average. Tome ultimately returns to finish his sermon, throwing the chains off of his shoulders symbolic of what the birth of Christ brought to the world.
So, what is the purpose of this show? To entertain? On some level. But more importantly AWAITED is an evangelical tool. Crossroads wants to grow its church, but more importantly it wants to grow the Church and tell this crazy story of hope in a way that many people have never experienced. Furthering the Kingdom of God by making the world – and specifically Cincinnati – a better place is never a bad mission, if you ask me.
Someone told me once that the auditorium of Crossroads was built by the same architect – and using the same blueprints- as Celine Dion’s Las Vegas theatre. I believe it. This 3,000 seat venue (with cup holders in the seats for the free coffee and cocoa) is comfortable, beautiful, and functional. The video projections, the rock-concert like audio system is the best in town, and I admire the ambition shown here. With around 250 cast and crew, this is no small undertaking.
I found myself on the brink of tears throughout much of the show. The story of Jesus is one that as a Bible college graduate and Christian I have heard a million times. But I’ve never seen it presented quite like this . . .and I’m sure I’m not alone. If you’re lucky enough to score one of the hard-to-find free tickets, you should absolutely go and experience church in a brand new way. And you could always wait in the standby queue. I’d estimate that almost 25% of this morning’s audience did just that and was able to find a seat. I’d venture to guess they’d agree that it was worth the risk.