By Diane Howard, Ph.D.
Swimming back into theaters on June 3, Fathom Events presents the encore showing of the spectacular Sight & Sound® hit musical “Jonah! on Stage.” Sonoma Christian Home has an exclusive interview with the lead performer, Rodney Coe, who tells his own personal story of a life lived like Jonah. This amazing production filmed over, through, and in front of a live audience at the renowned Sight & Sound ® Theatres in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, brings to life the journey of the lovable but stubborn prophet, Jonah. This breathtaking performance provides delightful humor, cinematic music, and an underwater scene featuring a huge 40-foot fish—with one big appetite!
When God calls Jonah to offer mercy and forgiveness to the people of Nineveh, he runs in the opposite direction. However, as is often the case, one bad choice leads to another and soon Jonah’s “getaway” ship is on the verge of destruction amidst a fierce storm. To save themselves, the ship’s crew tosses Jonah overboard into the waiting mouth of an immense fish. However, Jonah discovers that God is willing to offer second chances to the Ninevites and runaway prophets alike!
It is Sight & Sound Theatres’ first time to present their stage play on the big screen. Now, people who can’t travel to Lancaster, Pennsylvania or Branson, Missouri can see this spectacular, jaw-dropping production in their own communities.
Sight & Sound is the largest faith-based live theater company and one of the top three theater destinations in the country. Last year, more than a million people came from around the world to experience a Sight & Sound Theatres production at their flagship locations (in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Branson, Missouri).
In business since 1976, Sight & Sound is a family-owned, family-led organization whose mission is to bring the Bible to life through live stage productions, thus illustrating truth the same way that Jesus did—through the art of storytelling. Their mission is that audiences will discover the life-changing message of the Bible and will see how all of its stories point to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Diane Howard has a powerful, exclusive interview with the leading performer, Rodney Coe, who plays Jonah.
DH: You had a harrowing experience that you thought would prevent you from performing. Could you tell us about it?
RC: In February in NYC, I was coming home from a concert, when I was mugged by three men with a baseball bat. One month before, I had given my life to Christ; but I was still a mess, running from myself. Before the attack, I had been performing in equity shows but now acting seemed out of the questions. Now the only thing I could do was put popcorn in buckets. I had to relearn how to speak and write. But in the midst of my recovery, I had to depend on the Lord, kept proving himself loving, and kind. Events like what I went through can shape or twist a life.
DH: How were you able to ultimately perform again.
RC: I went through five years of recovery. During this time, I wanted to perform again, but the Lord wanted to work on my character. During those five years, I had ongoing migraines with PTSD, in which I would re-experience the incident. Finally, during a PTSD recurrence of the event, a Being of light appeared, the bat dropped, and the Person picked me up and touched my face. The Lord had redeemed the broken, and I never had another headache. I began to heal,
Lots of people along the way were our Lord’s agents of blessing and encouragement. Once when I was close to pay day without enough money for rent and no money for food, on a subway, I was reading in my Bible, when a man gave me $500 without questions. It was enough for rent, food and a little more.
I served at one point as a tech theater staff for a theater that had a show called “Miracle” about the life of Christ. Personnel at that theater encouraged me to audition. Then everything came back. I was working and performing because I was working for the Lord.
DH: What were some other surprising experiences with the production once you were cast in the “Jonah, On Stage!” Production?
RC: God was my agent and I did not want. I first came to the Jonah, on Stage! production as a chorus member and then I was selected as Jonah.
DH: How did you personally identify with the theme of second chances?
RC: I am a Jonah.
DH: What is the best part of participating in the Sight and Sound production?
RC: At first I thought I was there to encourage the audience, but the best part is that after each show we pray with the audience and some come up to tell us incredible things, such as being on the brink of ending a marriage and deciding after the production not to.
DH: What have you learn about God and the way He works through this production?
RC: Firsthand, I have learned that Gods pursues us. He is a gentleman. He is always there. He is always at the door, no matter how far you try to run. No matter how much you hate Him, He stills loves you. He is sold out in love for His children. Just recently, for example my car died after a first premiere. I was going to sell it for scrap, but the mechanic called back asking if we would sell it to someone. At the shop, I waited in line with three other guys in recovery with whom I rejoiced. Then someone called to give me a car, a 2002 Saturn. As I focus on the Lord, He takes care of everything.
Having auditioned hundreds of actors from all over the country, Sight & Sound® cast more than 50 actors for “Jonah on Stage!” It features nearly three dozen live animals including sheep, highland cattle, alpacas, camels, llamas, a sheep dog, miniature donkeys, birds, horses (of course), and one skunk. The music (recorded in Prague, The Czech Republic, by the Prague Symphony Orchestra) in “Jonah on Stage!” is all original and is a collaboration of multiple professionals. The vocals are sung by the performers.
Among the 70-plus set pieces is a boat weighing 30,000 pounds, which is one of the largest set pieces in Sight & Sound’s history. Production teams worked two years to create the lighting effects to take audiences through a storm and under water. The more than 1,700 lights in each performance include 100 automated lights with 100 color changes, requiring five miles of cable.
All 550 costumes are the work of Sight & Sounds’ in-house staff of designers and seamstresses. “Jonah on Stage!” costumes include 5,500 yards of fabric, 4,000 snaps and 250 wigs.
Every show is an epic experience with a meaningful message. Audiences enjoy edge-of-seat action with heartfelt drama on a panoramic stage. Viewers are surrounded with uplifting, profound Bible stories brought to life by an exceptional cast, spectacular special effects, massive sets and live animals on stage, in the aisles and overhead.
Hopefully, this production of “Jonah on Stage!” will encourage us all to read and study the Biblical Book of Jonah. In Jonah’s day, Assyria was a threat to Israel, Nineveh was its great capital! Despite Jonah’s reluctance to bring God’s message to Ninevah, God used him to bring this threatening nation to repentance and faith in Him. Today some whom we have viewed as a threat (such as Muslims) are coming to faith in Christ. Could it be that we can learn from the Book of Jonah about following our Lord as He leads us in praying for, reaching out, and going to those whom we view as a potential threat?
Nineveh is today Mosul, Iraq! Maps still refer to the “Plains of Ninevah” that surround Mosul. The indigenous Assyrians continuing to live in Iraq are today one of the few Christian people groups in this entire country and providing life-changing Christian witness to this region of the world. Today we are serving this war-afflicted people and their children. God knew that wicked Ninevites would provide light in the darkness in this region until today and that we would support them.
God’s ways are not our ways and He often works most unexpectedly.