November 1st, 2011
Artists: A. Thomas Hill, Director, with Tramaine Hawkins
Format: DVD (2 disc set)
Release date: 2010
Since 1984, Indianapolis, Indiana has held the largest and longest running African-American led passion play, Upon This Rock, during the Easter holiday. Founded and perpetuated by Pastor Thomas A. Hill (who plays Simon) and his sister, Sharon L. Hill, the play is a grand production anticipated by large audiences year after year. Upon This Rock depicts the story of Jesus Christ during the days preceding his crucifixion. Throughout the production, characters dig deeper into the lives and concepts of that time period. Singers jump in and out of character to tell the story of the passion, while also giving personal testimonies. Filled with lively songs, vibrant dance numbers, and astonishing special effects, this play is enjoyed by audiences of all ages.
The most notable aspect of this production is the aesthetic appeal. The backgrounds, props, and special effects are extremely lifelike, enhancing the feeling that you are actually present in that time period. The use of actual blasts of fire can be felt by those in the audience, which adds to the feeling that you’re part of the action. The dancers add flare to the story by incorporating precise, yet fluid movements. The choir stands in the orchestra pit, singing along to the scenes, and is featured in several interludes. The production caters to all audience members. On the side of the stage, there are two sign language professionals interpreting the play for the hearing impaired. Another interesting feature is that everyone on stage (including the choir and interpreters, yet excluding dancers) is wearing traditional Biblical dress. The production staff even takes this a step further by incorporating live animals on stage. Obviously the Upon This Rock staff has worked hard to make this production as realistic as possible.
Following is the official trailer:
As far as the spiritual concept goes, Upon This Rock is essentially a Christian story. The lines are presented in the form of Bible verses in order to tell the story as accurately as possible. In fact, the title Upon This Rock comes from Matthew 16:18. The biblical figures that Jesus Christ helped, such as Lazarus and the crippled woman, make an appearance in the play and represent the miracles he performed. One captivating aspect of the production is that when a specific and prominent character speaks to the audience, the rest of the cast “freezes” while the reciting character provides a deeper explanation of the scene’s plot. This spotlights the reciting character and adds to the notion that the character’s line is important. When it comes to characters giving their testimonies or singing a solo (usually intertwined), some of them experience something my colleagues and I coined “going in.” Going in means to feel the spirit of the LORD and outwardly express your spiritual connection.
Upon This Rock: the Passion Play brings to life the miracles, ministry, and story of Jesus Christ and his disciples. With the help of well-known and respected gospel artists, such as Lady Tramaine Hawkins (featured on the DVD), UTR does a superb job of drawing in audiences. Over 70 churches are involved with the production. At the end of the play, Pastor Thomas A. Hill asks audience members if they would like to join the body of Christ. The overall objective of this play is to show people the wonderful way of GOD and bring people to Him. It will evoke emotion in even the most reserved people. Upon This Rock: the Passion Play is a must see production with family and friends. However, if you’re not able to attend the annual performance in Indianapolis (scheduled for April 6-7, 2012 at Butler University’s Clowes Hall), this DVD, filmed live during the 2010 production, is the next best thing.
Reviewed by DeVol Tyson II
Review Genre(s): Gospel Music and Spirituals