Return of the King

Musical about Jesus' life and teachings revived with a recording, and a script and score for lease

Sep 12, 2016 by and

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NEWTON, Kan. — Creators of a musical about the life and teachings of Christ have resurrected the work with hopes of reaching an even wider audience than they did nearly a decade ago. Instead of going on tour, this time the script and score are available for lease, and a studio recording was just released.

Josh Powell, right, as John the Baptist, prepares to baptize Jesus, played by Austin McCabe-Juhnke, during the production of The Upside Down King at the 2009 Mennonite Church USA convention in Columbus, Ohio. At far left is Kelly Reed, and next to her is Bethany Amstutz Schrag. — Paul Schrag/MWR

Josh Powell, right, as John the Baptist, prepares to baptize Jesus, played by Austin McCabe-Juhnke, during the production of The Upside Down King at the 2009 Mennonite Church USA convention in Columbus, Ohio. At far left is Kelly Reed, and next to her is Bethany Amstutz Schrag. — Paul Schrag/MWR

The Upside Down King is made up of songs by Doug and Jude Kreh­biel of Newton and a script co-written with Carol Duerksen of rural Hillsboro. Inspired by Donald B. Kraybill’s 1978 book, The Upside-Down Kingdom, the play is filled with songs about being followers of Christ — disciples that don’t mesh with the world around them.

“It’s an original rock and roots musical about the life of Jesus,” Doug Krehbiel said. “It’s full-blown classic rock, dynamic lead vocals and thick harmonies — drums, guitar, bass — soft ballads, funky blues.”

The Krehbiels — who perform as Road Less Travelled — were joined by other volunteer musicians and actors in 2007 and 2008 for performances in eight Western District and South Central Conference congregations, raising more than $10,000 for conference youth ministry.

“People wanted us to keep going. We had lots of offers, but people had lives to get back to,” Doug Krehbiel said.

The couple approached Bethel College in North Newton, and John McCabe-Juhnke’s theater department expanded the musical with choreography by Annette Thornton, director of musical theater at Central Michigan University. Bethel’s production was seen by thousands at Mennonite Church USA’s 2009 convention in Columbus, Ohio, and raised another $10,000.

After that, the musical went dormant, but not dead.

Over the years, the Krehbiels were joined by 13 musicians and singers to create a studio recording of music, and the script and score are now available for lease.

“Former Thirstborn lead sing­er Jason Fishburn, an incredible piano player named Josh Piper who did amazing stuff, Book of JEBB singer Bethany Amstutz Schrag, Cameron Voth, who could have sung lead for Bread back in the ’70s . . . ” the excitement in Doug Kreh­biel’s voice is audible in each name dropped.

Jude Krehbiel said the script is basically the same as it was nearly a decade ago, but a new song has been added that is based on the Lord’s Prayer.

The book’s themes are all still there: following Jesus, sacrificial love, working for peace and justice and knowing that what earthly kingdoms say isn’t always right.

“These themes are the main reason for the musical,” Doug Kreh­biel said. “Sure, we’re excited about the music and drama, but far and away the most important aspect of this project is our hope that it will be a ministry that proclaims God’s kingdom.”

He thinks both churches and high schools could do productions and noted some large churches asked about putting it on during that first 2008 tour.

“It could be done with as little as a four-piece band and as little as five or six actors,” he said.

What about leasing the Kreh­biels themselves to be half the band?

“I would never say never, but our hope is that others would want to perform it,” Jude Kreh­biel said. “But we’re open to the leading of the Spirit.”

The couple is hopeful The Upside Down King can be even more than a musical and CD. Western District Conference would like to create a youth and adult Sunday school curriculum based on it, to be written by Carol Duerksen.

Information about leasing the musical, watching a video of a 2009 performance or ordering CDs is at upsidedownking.com. Sheet music for worship services is also available.

Inventory is available online and at Faith & Life Bookstore in Newton, and a launch party will be held Oct. 22 at the store.


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