Listening to Prodigal God is a choice for adventure. A choice for the unexpected. A choice to find yourself in someone else's story. We're guessing you love to listen to music as much as we do. That?s why we?ve corralled this ancient parable into catchy tunes, thoughtful wordplay, instrumental hooks, and bold performances.
Upon first listen, you'll notice Prodigal God - The Album offers a different listening experience than you might be used to.
First, there's story which drives the songs. Familiar and not. You?ll sense that each song means a bit more than the one before it, and by the end, the sum of the parts offers an extra kick.
Second, most pop projects don't offer such cohesive diversity. Within the first 5 songs you'll hear 7 different singers, each with their own unique sound. This eclecticism comes out of character and relationship and, if we've done our job well, offers you multiple layers and points of view from which to experience the story. Especially upon multiple listens.
The score offers a wasteful extravagance of musical styles. Ron Kenoly shares his trademark crackly R&B depths, with a playful horn section thrown in. MARIKA and Colin Janz make pop sparks fly, each with their own very personal sound. Thanks to world musician Boris Sichon, you'll feel touches of the exotic and ancient.
The last distinctive of this album lies in the story gaps between the songs. There are pivotal moments of this story which are entirely missing on the recording: dialogue scenes, monologues, fights, and dance breaks.
Listening to the album might feel like working a big jigsaw puzzle.
In short, it's a musical. Like most cast recordings, ours is designed to maintain its freshness and relevance five, ten or even twenty years from now. For those who are used to listening to original cast recordings, you'll know what to do and when to do it. For others, this might be a first adventure. And hopefully not a last.
Welcome to the prodigal world.
The primary goal of the play development process, as it is called, is to figure out which story we want to tell and whether we’re telling it clearly. There’s the sequence of events (the plot), the nature of the relationships (the characters), and the escalating conflict and the character arcs to fine tune. Unlike fiction, which reaches its ultimate life on the page, theatre isn’t theatre until it is physically manifest in a space by actors whose bodies and voices bear the weight of the storytelling. These actors do their stuff in give and take relationship with each other, which means that a musical is a living organism. It can only be tested for vital signs in the presence of the watchful community of an audience.
That would be you we hope.
Brian Doerksen writes 'Father I want you to hold me' during a moment of spiritual revelation while holding his first infant daughter, Rachel. It's a song of longing for the unconditional love of God as Father. The lyrics are more intimate and honest than the known worship songs of the day. He sings it in a living room with some friends at the invitation of Andy Park. Soon thereafter, he shares this song with hundreds and then thousands of people. He begins a journey of writing more intimate songs; songs of worship that help connect people connect with God. These songs start to travel the globe and are sung by people throughout Canada, the US, Europe and beyond.
Brian is inspired to write a musical about the pain of a fatherless generation, and the love of God as Father the same year that his first son, Benjamin, who is mentally handicapped, is born.
Father’s House goes global, selling 80,000 copies. A home grown community theatre production is mounted centered around an old woman telling a fairy tale to some children. Requests come in for the theatrical show that goes with the CD.
Brian seeks scriptwriters to help develop a new script based on the recording. Ron Reed, Founder of Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre, tells Brian about a writer in Boston, named Christopher Greco. Christopher pitches the idea that in the musical, Father’s House is the name of a shelter for runaway teens in a contemporary urban context.
Father’s House is developed and mounted with Morris Ertman directing and designing. The technically impressive show closes in Vancouver after several weeks of performances, incurring a significant amount of trade debt. The takeaway: a marketing plan wasn’t adequately developed to forge an audience from two unlikely matched constituencies: the church and the theatre-going public.
Brian, Joyce and their family head to England to regroup. Wonderful things happen there, many of which are chronicled in Brian’s memoir, Make Love Make War.
Father’s House is rewritten and directed by Yvonne Morley in London. Audience surveys created by Executive Producer, Jay Doktor, reveal a similar split as previously noted – religiously-minded folks and regular theatre-goers have very different experiences of the piece. While in London, Brian e-mails Christopher and asks whether he might be interested in working more on the project in the future. Christopher is no dummy. He says yes.
Christopher flies out to B.C. and meets Brian for the first time. The two create a story treatment for a full-length musical intended for general audiences which will become Prodigal God.
The first draft, then called Return, is completed and a first reading is held at Brian’s studio, The Shining Rose. Morris Ertman directs the 2-day workshop and reads stage directions. Ron Reed is the original Elder Brother. Album producers, Philip Janz and Brian Thiessen, perform all the songs with the help of Loralee Thiessen.
A second draft is read at Gallery 7 Theatre in Abbotsford, this time with singing actors after a 4-day workshop, and with London West End musical director, Ali Berry, at the keyboard. Audience response is strong, and a debrief is convened to consider next steps, attended by Executive Producer, Dave Krysko, who for the first time takes interest in the project.
Draft Seven is read in Cambridge, MA, at the Greater Boston Vineyard, the church where Christopher serves as a pastor of arts and worship. The show is untitled and the audience is asked to choose their favorite from a list of titles, of which Prodigal God is included. Christopher embarks on a series of rewrites which leads the team to conclude that the show is “ready”. Ready for what, nobody yet knows.
Five songs are chosen to be arranged and recorded, and Prodigal God - The EP, is produced and made available for free download. Till We Return to Dust is performed and received with enthusiasm as part of Brian’s concert tour.
The remaining 18 songs of the show are arranged and recorded, resulting in Prodigal God - The Album, featuring singers Ron Kenoly, MARIKA, and Colin Janz, among others. Brian sings the role of the Elder Son, and narrates the story. Christopher sings as The Rabbi.
The team acknowledges the spiritual writings of the late Henri Nouwen on the subject of this parable, The Return of the Prodigal (and the more recently published, Home Tonight). It’s hard to imagine this particular approach to the story would have been so compelling had it not been for Nouwen’s vulnerable and insightful self-disclosures based on his meditations in response to the Rembrandt painting.
Another book, coincidentally titled The Prodigal God, by Manhattan-based Redeemer Presbyterian Pastor Tim Keller, was published in 2009. Working off of similar scholarly sources and leading to similar conclusions as Nouwen, Keller’s book provides a sound and accessible theological context for the premise which this show dramatizes – namely, that both sons are lost.
In addition to director Morris Ertman, the following individuals have offered helpful dramaturgical counsel along the way: Pacific Theatre artistic director and playwright, Ron Reed; theatre director and actor, Robert Walsh; playwright and author, Dave Schmelzer; Regent University Professor, and playwright, Gillette Elvgren. Nouwen’s primary scholarly source, Dr. Kenneth Bailey, who’s written several meaty books on the subject, provided a single phone consultation to help with some of the historical issues.