‘Covenant’ debuts at The O2
30 June 2015
Eight extraordinary real-life stories of 20th-century Salvationists have been brought together to form a moving, compelling whole in Covenant, the Boundless Congress musical.
A cast of 53 people from the USA Western Territory debuted the musical on Tuesday June 30 in indigo at The O2, one of the many venues being used across The O2 complex. This was the first of seven performances slated for the congress week.
The show is a vignette of eight real-life stories about Salvationists across the world. Snippets of The Salvation Army’s work throughout the 20th century are threaded together with scenes of Founder William Booth sharing his vision for the Army in his final days.
‘It’s about what is going on now but also for the past 150 years – how people stepped up to do what needs to be done,’ said Kevin Larsson, musical composer and director, who wrote Covenant with playwright Karl Larsson and lyricist Commissioner Keith Banks.
‘When we read through William Booth’s relatively obscure funeral covenant, the idea of him working on it was born,’ said Karl Larsson.
A total of 16 tracks comprise a range of musical styles to reflect the journey around the world. ‘The inspiration for the music came out of the stories and the country in which the stories were set,’ said Kevin Larsson. ‘I tried to get the styles from all over the world as much as I was able.’ He was influenced by music by Russian composer Shostakovich for ‘In My Enemy’s Camp’ and researched Soukous style music, an African version of the Cuban rumba and the Paraguayan polka among others.
The power of this production is in the real-life stories of Salvationists. In between each scene, videos of the real-life character – or someone who knew the character – briefly share a personal story. What seems to be a transitional element of the musical is key in providing context for the story if the audience misses any words or story points in the scene.
‘To think these stories were actually true!’ said co-director Barbara Allen, who staged and choreographed the musical. ‘The musical is a wonderful vehicle to tell the stories and for the cast to get to know them so well.’
In this context of extraordinary real-life stories, giant blank polygons serve as a canvas for projected backgrounds – from illustrative modern layers of moving images to pictures that evoke dimensions of realism – created by the Multimedia Ministries Department in the USA Western Territory.
The costumes support each scene, complementing the muted oppression in prison yards and the Nazi regime or the vibrancy of tropical forests and South American streets. But some scenes are so raw that the simplicity of it hits the audience in the gut even without the extravagance.
The cast and a support staff of eight are soldiers from the southern California region, ranging in age from eight to 76. The performances of several strong soloists takes one out of an evaluative mode to simply enjoy the show as they unveil the heart of the characters.
It is a visual treat for the eyes and for the ears.
The rehearsal process started in January and, though exhausting, cast members say it was an enriched and joyous experience, prompting personal reflection.
‘I really think this musical will minister to the global Salvation Army to give them a sense of commitment and holy pride,’ said Major Tim Foley, who played Old Gunter. ‘I’m enjoying playing a small part in a production that is bringing that spirit of encouragement.’
While entire duplications of a major production like this would be rare, the Larssons are hopeful that the vignette format allows for the musical to be broken into manageable chunks that could be performed individually elsewhere, hopefully extending the musical’s life beyond Boundless. All orchestrations, books and background images will be made available for purchase.
As I watched the scenes unfold, I acknowledged the wonderful history of The Salvation Army.
We look back longingly at the early days of the Army, wishing that today’s Army could have the same fire and spirit. The stories portrayed in this musical reveal that the Army has faithfully served with the same blood of Christ and fire of the Holy Spirit throughout the 20th century. They may not have been told as often or revered as much as the stories of the early days, but these stories are a testament to how Booth’s vision and Christ’s command have been manifested in our time.
I wonder how many extraordinary, yet unnoticed, heroic works of love and sacrifice are taking place all over the world. Beyond these eight stories, there are so many more that will never get recognition.
To end the show, audience members are invited to stand and read William Booth’s covenant together – a covenant penned in his final days. It’s a challenge. It is an invitation to move the Army – the love for God and people – forward from the visions of the early days into the future.
By Joy Yi -
This article was included in issue one of Boundless Today. Click to read all issues of Boundless Today.