Original Gospel Musical by M.A. Student Premiers This Weekend

Posted: January 16, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

An American Song is a musical with a message. Written by Pamela Berthold, an M.A. candidate in English Literature at George Mason, the musical deals with keeping the faith in a post-9/11 America, and is set in Northern Virginia in the year 2003. It opens tonight in Harris Theatre.

“The setting is very unique in that it is seeking to portray the people of this community to this community,” says Berthold. “We’re looking to explore the intersection of patriotism and faith.”

Berthold, who began a Christian theatrical company called SOS (Spotlight on the Spirit) Productions last year, wrote the musical in an attempt to explore some of the issues surrounding faith and love after the events of September 11. “We are still emotionally connected to what we are performing about. There are still a lot of wounds that need dressing in the people of this community,” she says. “Playwrights should be diving into the deep end of the water right now, figuring out how we are going to frame this in our consciousness.”

A former assistant minister in the United Methodist Church and a playwright coming out of 15 years of working professionally in New York City, Berthold sees her musical as a calling and a ministry. She has written several other plays, including Open Me Carefully, a historical drama about the spiritual life of Emily Dickinson, which she hopes to produce next year. But An American Song is the work that she currently holds closest to her heart.

The musical tells the story of Jesse, a carpenter on the eve of his 33rd birthday. He falls in love with Maggie, played by Berthold, who was widowed on September 11 when her husband died in New York City as a firefighter in Tower Two of the World Trade Center. The principal cast of five is complimented by the First Mount Zion Gospel Choir, who will act similarly to a Greek chorus, commenting on the action of the play as it progresses.

“Obviously, there are allegorical elements to the play, but we want to stress that we are friendly to people of all religious beliefs. This is an American story. And anyway, I don’t care what you believe in. You’re going to have goose bumps when you hear the gospel choir sing!” Berthold says.

The musical incorporates a cross-section of American music, including Negro spiritual, pop, rock, and musical theatrical. It is the second in a three-part series of stories Berthold has written about the events of September 11.

The musical is sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, Catholic Campus Ministry, and United College Ministry. Radio station WAVA 105.1 FM will run a live remote broadcast tonight from Harris Theatre, where the station will distribute giveaways. The musical will be performed tonight and Jan. 17, 21, 23, and 24 at 8 p.m., and Jan. 18 and 25 at 2 p.m. For tickets, which are $20, or $15 for students, military, and groups of eight or more, visit www.tickets.com or call 703-218-6500.

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