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Jewish Journal

The Old Testament: Coming to an arena near you

by Danielle Berrin

August 16, 2011 | 6:17 pm

This ain’t your bubbe’s Ten Commandments.

Veteran Broadway director Philip William McKinley told Deadline.com’s Mike Fleming his next project will bring stories from The Old Testament to the big stage.

The Bible: The Beginning, a live show scaled for arena-sized venues that will use music, dialogue, tumblers, jugglers, singers, aerialists and fighters to re-enact the Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark, Moses and his clash with the Pharaoah, the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, all culminating in the delivery of The Ten Commandments. The musical will be narrated by Gabriel the Messenger; Raphael the Healer; and Michael, Leader of God’s armies.

McKinley is best known for directing Hugh Jackman in “The Boy from Oz” and for saving “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” from near disaster (on “Lion King” stage director Julie Taymor’s watch, the production was plagued with all sorts of financial and safety catastrophes). McKinley has a proven knack for spectacle and theatrical hi-jinks. He will re-team with Spider-man producer Michael Cohl to bring “The Bible” on a U.S. arena tour.

McKinley expected to take on something small after Spider-Man, only to change his mind after a three-martini dinner with stage actress Judy Kaye. “I told her I’d done The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, and she said, well, there’s nothing left then but The Bible,” McKinley said. “The more I thought about it, I realized that we could take these stories that have big morality themes and put them in a style of contemporary performance.”

While this production is intended for the stage, Hollywood has a history of valuing the bible at the box office. According to boxofficemojo.com, Cecil B. DeMille’s iconic film, “The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston as Moses, grossed nearly $66 million in 1956, which adjusted for inflation, would today amount to approximately $523 million. The Jewish historical drama “Exodus” which functions also as biblical allegory grossed close to $22 million in 1960,  which today would equal about $158 million, according to the-numbers.com. And even though we love to hate him, who can forget Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ” which cost $30 million to make and raked in more than $370 million at the box office, proving once again that there is an appetite for the ancient.

At a discussion panel about Hollywood’s relationship to Israel, sponsored by the World Alliance For Israel Political Action Committee (WAIPAC) last September, former William Morris agent David Lonner, now the CEO of Oasis Media Group, and former Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing discussed the benefits of translating Torah for Tinseltown.

“I think there’s a gigantic market for biblical stories,” Lonner said, citing Gibson’s “Passion” while admitting its perceived “anti-Semitic tracks” disturbed him. Still, it “showed that there is a tremendous audience in the evangelical community in this country and around world” that form a marketplace for biblically-inspired drama. “There are certainly stories in the biblical canon that could lend themselves to great [movies that have], epic scope, epic battles, mythology – you just need to find the right filmmaker.”

Lansing added that two of her favorite films in recent years were “Lebanon” and “The Concert” which she described as addressing contemporary Jewish issues.

Jewish tradition is rife with rich storytelling. Filmmaker Marc Erlbaum, who founded Nationlight Productions, a company whose sole aim is to develop values-based film content, told me he believes there is a vast untapped market in America that craves inspired, meaningful storytelling (but you’ll have to check back tomorrow to read the interview).

Earlier this summer, Israeli singer Idan Raichel encapsulated the rich, rare quality of the biblical canon when he told the New York Times: “I use the Bible because all the most important and beautiful things have already been said, so that the best that I can probably do is repeat them,” he said. “There is simply no greater love song than what you find in the Book of Psalms.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Danielle Berrin writes the Hollywood Jew blog, a cutting edge, values-based take on the entertainment industry for jewishjournal.com. A Los Angeles Times profile dubbed her...

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