HUDSON — When Mike Laymon saw the reaction of four visitors to a rehearsal for Jesus, Behold the Man before its premier in 2006, he knew the latest production from Word of Life Gospel Productions would have an impact.
"We didn't have any costumes or makeup, and our lights and special effects were not completed yet," said Laymon, the program's producer/director. "By the end of the program, they were all in tears."
Laymon said the story line brought the emotional response.
"It was great to see the power of the message of the life of Jesus just in the story itself, without adding in all of the other extras that really bring it to life on stage," he said. "I knew then that this program would be something special for those who came to see it."
On Wednesday, the musical drama began its third season at the Harry Bollback Performing Arts Center at Word of Life Fellowship.
Gloria Berridge took a group of about 45 people from the Wesleyan Village in Brooksville to see the play Friday night. She also accompanied the group last year to see the production.
"I was very surprised because I didn't expect it to be so professionally done," she said. "I thought it was very good, very well done. The special effects and the costumes, all of that. I thought they did a tremendous job."
For Berridge, seeing the passion play helps to make this season more meaningful.
"I think Easter is just the most amazing time of the year," she said.
The 150-plus cast for the Broadway-style performance is composed of students from the Word of Life Bible Institute, staff members and children of staff members.
"The production spans the entire life of Jesus Christ on Earth, starting at his birth and finishing at his ascension into heaven," Laymon said. "We also focused in on several different people that surrounded the life of Jesus during his ministry years and last week on earth."
Besides a powerful script, written by Laymon from biblical accounts, heart-felt performances by the students and elaborate costumes and scenery, the production is enhanced by the songs that were chosen to accompany the dialogue.
"This production showcases a wonderful score of music from talented composers like David Clydesdale, Lari Goss, Randy Vader and Jay Rouse as well as great Christian contemporary artists like Point of Grace, Phillips Craig and Dean, FFH, and 4Him," Laymon said. "In this program, you will even see Jesus and Satan sing a duet at the temptation of Christ, which is a scene like no other."
The play is in two acts.
Act 1 focuses on the birth and earthly ministry of Jesus.
The audience shares in Christ's life as he calls on 12 men to be his apostles and performs numerous miracles.
As the action continues, Laymon uses those who were touched in some way by Jesus to stand apart from the scene and share their feelings in word or song.
As Jesus touches people's lives with healing of body and soul, they begin to realize he is more than an ordinary man.
"Who is this who brings forgiveness to a heart that once was stone?" asks a woman who received a special touch from Christ.
When Jesus travels to Bethany to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead, commanding him to "come forth" from the tomb, there is no doubt among his followers that he is their long-awaited Messiah.
In Act 2, Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his last meal with his disciples, his betrayal by one of his followers, his trial before the Sanhedrin and his audience before the Roman governor, Pilate, and Herod, king of the Jews, all lead to his crucifixion.
The grief expressed by the players onstage changes to joy when, three days after his burial, Christ emerges from his tomb in a setting with special effects.
At the play's conclusion, Jesus speaks his final earthly words, commanding his disciples to share the news of the Gospel with the world, and then ascends into heaven.
"This performance is an incredible journey that no one should miss," Laymon said. "And with Easter season coming so soon this year, we don't want anyone to miss the opportunity to celebrate this incredible life — the life of Jesus."