“God has a great sense of humor and wants us to laugh,” preaches Pastor Paul Clairville of Burbank’s Westminster Presbyterian Church.
If, by some chance, that were not to be the case, Pastor Paul and more than 100 of his congregants who staged their annual “Nativity: The Musical!” this past week, would be in big trouble.
Peruse the Gospels as diligently as you may, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John never came close to describing the story of Christ’s birth with the imagination and humor of this production that, over the past nine years, has become so legendary it attracts audiences from far beyond the borders of Burbank.
While there is no Biblical basis for a young lad to have played his drum as a gift for the swaddled newborn, most folks are fine with that bit of poetic license.
However, when it comes to Westminster Presbyterian Church, artistic liberties are taken to the extreme as a pint-sized “Little Lounge Comedian” comes baring one-liners and Annie Oakley (huh) presents the babe with an “Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.”
If your head swirls over that, be prepared “‘cause, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” It’s a pretty safe bet there’s not another church on the planet that would have a Magic 8-Ball foretelling the Christ child’s birth, the stable run by a couple of burned-out hippies, the star of Bethlehem presented as a glamorous Hollywood starlet, or Caesar Augustus headlining a lounge act complete with Carmen Miranda-inspired showgirls at (where else) Caesar’s Palace.
Add to that a trio of doorbell-ringing Mormons as the Magi, a cameo by Elvis and Bing Crosby, who get into a bickering match over whether Christmases should be blue or white, and Caesar’s young assistant, “Little Caesar,” arriving at the stable with a pizza and asking: “Who ordered the double pepperoni?” and you get an idea why a running gag of each year’s performance includes cherubim shaking their little haloed-heads while opining: “This show gets weirder and weirder every year!”
And that it does, especially when the babe receives visits from Abraham Lincoln, Cap’n Crunch, Honey Boo Boo, Santa Claus, an unexplained gathering of cowpokes and Hawaiian dancers, rappers, Inspector Clouseau, the cast of “Duck Dynasty” and Julia Child.
And, just in case your head hasn’t exploded yet, you have to believe that even the boldest of performers and audience members have to be a little concerned that locusts, lice or some other plague of Biblical proportions may hit when a contingent of sailors carry in the blessed babe’s mom to the not-quite-Rodgers-and-Hammerstein lyrics: “Virgin Mary is a friend of mine.”
Having adverted a lightning strike after that one, this year’s show went on to present cheerleaders accompanying the arrival of King Herod, and the Von Trapp Family Singers doing renditions of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Time Warp” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Beautifully blending the age-old story that is true to scripture with Felliniesque fun and a plethora of pop culture puns and asides, this unique show is the annual creation of the husband-and-wife writing, producing and directing team of Greg and Melissa Baldwin, who always remind attendees that while they should take their faith seriously, they should never do the same with themselves.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.