The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

April 3, 2014

Church presents musical prodigal son

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

HERMITAGE — The biblical parable of the lost son – also known as the prodigal son – continues to touch people because of its themes of forgiveness, unconditional love, compassion, redemption and humility.

But, it’s not just a story. It has as much relevance today as it has ever had, said Ken Wagner, who is directing a musical version of the parable, “Lost and Found,” this weekend at Church of Notre Dame, Hermitage.

“How many families around here have had a son who said, ‘I’m outa here?’” Wagner said. “It’s really personal and it hits home.”

Monsignor Edward J. Zeitler, senior associate pastor of Notre Dame – who would rather be known as “Father Z” – said the musical should help people understand the power of the parable, which is told in the gospel of Luke.

“How many times we’ve preached it,” he said, counting himself among preachers through the generations. “To see it come to life really hits home.”

Producer Gretchen Wagner, Wagner’s wife, said she wanted to capitalize on the success the church had in staging “Moses and the Burning Within” in 2011 and 2012.

She has kept the “Moses” ensemble together, singing periodically for Sunday services.

She stumbled on an old cassette of “Lost and Found” and realized she had met its composer, Rory Cooney, at a retreat.

“We use his music here,” she said. “He is a super scripture scholar and musician. He writes the best text of anyone whose music I use.”

She contacted Cooney, who lives in Illinois, and he was flattered that anyone would want to resurrect “Lost and Found,” which hadn’t been performed in 20 years, she said.

“He allowed us to adapt some things in the original script that didn’t fit,” Mrs. Wagner said.

The parable tells the story of a son who is given his inheritance before his father has died, and goes off and parties it away. He eventually returns, destitute, and admits that he has sinned against his father and against God. The father takes back the son no questions asked. He arranges a feast to celebrate the son’s return.

“(T)his son of mine was dead and is alive again,” the father says. “He was lost and is found.”

The show is lighter than “Moses,” with more humor, as the inclusion of a biker bar shows.

“Beautiful music in it,” Wagner said, calling the score “tricky, but not difficult. Really gorgeous pieces.”

“There’s every genre of music in this, including a rap,” Mrs. Wagner added.

The 35 cast members had recordings of the score before rehearsals began, but they have worked together only since mid-February. They are giving their all to the performance, the Wagners said.

“They would practice every night if we could,” she said.

While the cast includes members of the Shenango Valley Chorale and others with musical training, many don’t have an extensive background.

“We have judges and factory workers and three retired state policemen,” Mrs. Wagner said. “It’s a great equalizer, theater.”

“It’s amazing how these people have developed, just within a week,” said Father Z, who has attended rehearsals. “It’s fun to watch the growth.”

Tickets and info

The musicians of Church of Notre Dame stage “Lost and Found – A Musical Parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday in the church at 2325 Highland Road, Hermitage.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and students.