HUDSON — Church groups that attend the Sights and Sounds of Christmas Broadway-style musical productions at Word of Life Fellowship each December say this year's show is even more extravagant than the previous seven years'.
The title The Most Wonderful Time of the Year has been added to the original title.
"It has a great story line that weaves together the largest sets, scenes and music we have ever done in a production," said director Mike Laymon. "The last program was very successful as we looked at nostalgia and Christmas in the '40s. This time we wanted to do something completely new and different that would really be great for all ages. It has some scenes that we think will be showstoppers."
The story, related as memories recorded in a journal, takes the audience through a variety of heart-warming Christmas memories, including Christmas as a child, shopping scenes resplendent with "snow" falling from the ceiling onto the stage — and parts of the audience — male cast members comically counting the days until Christmas using an Advent calendar that encompasses the entire stage, a nostalgic Christmas romance and lots of Christmas songs and gifts under the tree.
"One of the scenes is a Dr. Seuss-style rendition of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," Laymon said. "We have a 24-soldier march and a great '50s scene with 20 rag dolls and French hens. We will be doing a 12-man a cappella version of The 12 Days of Christmas. We will even venture into a modern-day airport to look at the craziness of travel during the holidays."
Especially delightful to children is seeing live animals and costumed cast members walk within touching distance as they approach the stage through the aisles.
The play transitions back and forth from scenes in the 1940s and '50s to modern day as it follows its story line.
Tori Emerson, 17, who attends Community Bible Church in Brooksville, is a student at the Bible Institute and plays three roles in the production: a dancing ballerina, a mother and an angel.
"The story is about a girl named Claire who owns a bookstore," Emerson said. "She finds a book that happens to be written by the previous owner, Lily. Lily had written it to her children, but it never got to them. So the story is about how Claire is trying to find the family to give the book to them. She reads it out loud, and the story comes alive as she reads it."
The two-act, two-hour play — plus 15-minute intermission — includes 38 scenes performed on nine sets by a cast of 146 students and faculty members from the Bible Institute, along with 45 people working behind the scenes. There are 20 musical numbers that cover 32 Christmas songs.
Kasey Rising plays the part of Claire. Lily is portrayed by Candy Bacon as an adult and Paige Phillips as a child. Other major roles are played by Rob Phillips, Annie Phillips, Brandon Arnold, Rich Andrews, Lynn Andrews, Rose Hercyk, Robby Fisher and Micah Gray.
As always, the production team has been careful to emphasize the true meaning of Christmas with scenes that include a family reading of the biblical account of the first Christmas and a live portrait of Bible characters and historical figures talking about the importance of Christ.
"Our big finale will combine a modern-day family setting with the Nativity coming to life right in their living room and being transported to Bethlehem," Laymon said. "There are fun, elegant, romantic, humorous, thought-provoking and inspiring moments with a very powerful presentation of the person of Jesus Christ."
Emerson, who was in a play last year at New Testament Christian School in Floral City, said she is excited to have opportunities to share what Christ is doing in her life.
"It's a great experience to watch the story unfold and see how it ties in with the birth of Jesus and why we celebrate Christmas," she said. "I believe that everybody has a story, and this is just one of the many stories of Christmas."
Emerson was on hand Wednesday and Thursday to greet students from West Hernando Christian School, Spring Hill Christian Academy and local homeschooled students who attended the production.
Hernando Church of the Nazarene took a group to the show on Nov. 27, and First Free Will Baptist Church members plan to attend Thursday.