With costumes, music, acting and set designs that could rival a Broadway play, Sight & Sound Theaters is bringing something new to movie theaters Tuesday with their big budget production, "JONAH: On Stage!"
For one night only, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, theater company is inviting fans to experience their live production on screen in select movie theaters around the country with their modern retelling of the biblical book of Jonah. Dean Sell, the brand director at Sight & Sound, told The Christian Post about the intricate set that makes the cinematic experience unique.
"From the moment you walk in the theater you see the size of the stage and that provides a space to have huge set pieces. It's not common that you see Bible stories using the kind of technology that is used in 'Jonah: On Stage!' with set pieces driven by technology that was pioneered by the military," he revealed. "It's not common that you see the kind of craftsmanship, and effort and attention to all the details that go into these productions. We have been so fortunate that God afforded us the ability to sink millions of dollars into the production of shows."
Putting shows like "Jonah" together requires so much more than money. It took three years to construct the set featuring a 30,000-pound boat, create scripts with original music, create 550 costumes, choreography and more. For a theater that prides itself on including live animals into its show, Sell said finding a whale to swallow Jonah may have been the biggest challenge.
"We've had a ton of live animals but we said we probably shouldn't try a live whale," he said. "One of the biggest challenges was bringing the underwater scene to life and helping people really go under the sea and really experience what it was like before that giant whale comes out and really gobbles up Jonah."
Those who have attended Sight & Sound's live theater production have witnessed three dozen live animals, actors coming down the aisles and props flying above their heads which makes for an interactive experience. While the experience will be different for moviegoers on Tuesday, Sell insisted it's just as exciting.
"When you come see it live you're sitting in one seat and that's the view you have of the show for the whole story. The movie theater experience is one where you get an up close and personal experience with the characters," Sell said. "You get to move around the theater since the cameras were placed around the theaters. The cameras are on stage with the actors so you get to be up close and personal and see the expression and see their reactions."
Each year, Sight & Sound holds auditions in New York City, Branson, Missouri, and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to find the best of the best to star in their over-the-top productions. This year, Sight & Sound found something different in actor Rodney Coe who was cast as Jonah.
Coe does more than just recite lines in "Jonah," he identifies with the man he portrays. As a young man, two of the actor's close friends committed suicide which led him down a path of self-medicating with substance abuse.
However, his life changed when a night of partying ended with Coe being violently robbed in an ordeal that left him badly beaten with resulting memory loss. At the time, Coe couldn't complete a full sentence much less recite lines and his career was in jeopardy.
Over time, God sent people in the actor's life and restored his memory. Now, he brings the character of Jonah to life with real emotions that he's felt firsthand.
"I know what it's like to run, to walk in unforgiveness, to let anger and hurt be the thing that rules your life. But just like Jonah I know what it's like to walk in freedom," the show's lead actor said in a Sights & Sounds behind-the-scenes video. "I know what it's like to forgive. I know what it's like for the Lord to transform your heart and life and to give you a new beginning."
Sell insisted that Coe's real life testimony adds an extra layer to the character he portrays.
"To see him in costume, on stage playing this part it's so meaningful to him and to us. But the reality is he'll tell you a lot of it he's not acting," the brand director told CP. "It's true of his own journey — his own personal Jonah experience of running away from God, hitting rock bottom and feeling God's redemptive grace and mercy and coming back to him."
Now, Sight & Sound hopes that people who attend over 700 movie theaters nationwide where the film will be playing will get to know Jonah's story in a new way.
"We hope families come and they walk away saying 'you know what, I never thought about that before. I never connected with the character of Jonah that way before,'" he said, continuing with his hope for audiences. "I never really imagined what it would be like to be in Nineveh and face what Jonah faced.' So that's our hope that they walk away saying, 'I connect to this story more than I ever did before.'"
For four decades Sight & Sound has been bringing Bible stories to life with their productions. The family-owned creative company that started with a dairy farmer and his wife don't toil over productions for the benefit of ticket sales, but to spread the Word of God.
"We don't do it to get the good business. In fact if you were to take this business model to somebody they would probably look at you and think you're crazy," Sell said. "We're doing this because we are so sold out for our mission of presenting the Gospel and bringing Bible stories to the stage for families to enjoy together. We're just absolutely sold out for that."
For more information about "JONAH: On Stage!" which will play for only one night in theaters May 2 at 7 p.m., visit https://sight-sound.com/.
Check out the "Jonah: On Stage!" trailer here.