The house was packed with Salvationists from throughout the USA Southern Territory for the debut of “Our People: The Musical” at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center June 4, 2011.
Written and musically directed by Lt. Colonel Eddie Hobgood with arrangement and orchestration by Stephen Bulla and choreography by Vincent Musgrave, the musical was an artistic display of the early years of Salvation Army founders William and Catherine Booth, portrayed by Dean Feener and Roberta Simmons-Smith.
The musical was inspired by the documentary “Our People,” produced by Major Peter Farthing and the Australia Eastern Territory. The cast of the play included cadets from Evangeline Booth College, and their portrayal of characters took the audience across the spectrum of emotions throughout the evening.
Scenes alternated frequently between portraying the livelihood of more esteemed members of society and the lifestyles of the poor and needy in the East End of London. Dramatic visual effects accentuated the already realistic portrayal of Catherine Mumford and William Booth, detailing their courtship through graphic representations of the letters they shared. Both Catherine and William Booth were portrayed as passionate, God-centered people with strong convictions.
Comedic elements were brought in particularly by the supporting characters Mr. Rabbits (Cadet Kenny Jones), who took great interest in engineering a budding friendship between Catherine Mumford and William Booth, and Mrs. Mumford (Cadet Heather Dolby). Her characterization of a loving but somewhat meddling mother garnered a ripple of chuckles.
Beyond the Booth love story, however, the musical showed the impact of William and Catherine Booth on the public and the Wesleyan church. William resigned from the New Methodist Connexion to preach to the poor; Catherine became known for the rebuttal she wrote to a letter written by Sunderland minister Reverend Arthur Rees (Cadet Rob Dolby) about his teaching that women shouldn’t preach.
After an encounter in the East End, William told Catherine about God calling him to the poor, and their duet together was the crescendo of the musical where the audience clearly sees the vision of what would become The Salvation Army. The title song, “Our People,” revealed the Booths’ passion for needy souls. Before the scene could change, applause erupted.
The final scene took place in May 1878 when William calls son Bramwell (Cadet Ben Bridges) and assistant George Scott Railton (Cadet Chris Welch) to help him, and they settle on naming the organization The Salvation Army. The scene folds in all the cast as they join on stage to sing “Army of God” about beloved Army ideals – the flag; colors of red, yellow and blue; brass bands and marching to proclaim Christ.
After the curtain call, Commissioner Max Feener said, “What a great musical this has been, and what a great heritage we have as The Salvation Army.” He then led the crowd in an impromptu version of “Rescue the Perishing,” and at its finish said, “It is my prayer that God will always keep us rescuing our people.”
By: Brooke Turbyfill