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Time is of the essence on stage, especially when you're performing a play that attempts to condense more than 4,000 years of history into roughly two hours. In their production of The Covenant, which traces the Jewish timeline from Abraham to the birth of modern Israel, actors from the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem strive to do just that, using music, period costumes and elaborate sets to impart a pro-Israel message to audiences. The play's cast and crew returned to Israel last week after concluding the production's first full European tour, with shows having taken place in Spain, Ireland, France and several German-speaking countries.
"There was a demand for us to return to Europe," said Chuck King, a producer and cast member in the show, which traveled to Germany, Switzerland and Austria last year. "Word of the success [of the previous tour] spread to our national directors in other countries and to some pastors in Spain."
The all-Christian cast had some trepidation about how the Jewish-themed show would be received, but its fears were allayed quickly by ticket sales and enthusiastic audience response, organizers said. "When applause is following every scene, you know [the audience is] with you and experiencing it with you," said Chloe Osborne, the play's choreographer and a member of the cast. "We had a standing ovation after every show."
The Covenant was written to show Christians why Israel should be important to them, and to "put Zionism into the heart of the Bible," according to King. The script, which was originally written in English, was later translated into Hebrew with the help of a private donor and iconic Israeli songwriter Ehud Manor, who passed away in April 2005, before the musical began its first European run. The show was also recently translated into Spanish, with the cast learning the new script during a three-week tour of the United States in April and May.
The show first played at a Succot celebration arranged by the ICEJ in 2001. It appeared at the Jerusalem Arts Festival the next year - a production which helped launch its first tour of Israel.
The production started its most recent tour in Cordoba, Spain, and traveled along a criss-crossing path to the other locations. Some of the performances took place in 2,000-seat theaters, while others happened in small churches.
"It's very moving for us to see the [audiences'] tears, the response, especially during the tough scenes," said King. "To know, in this unique way, we're bringing healing [and] closure to people who've been hurt by Christians, especially [by Christians] in Germany."
While most of the reactions to the show were positive, the cast did experience some tension at a few of its performances. Osborne, who has lived in Israel for the past two years while helping with the show's production, said Elizabeth Muren, one of the musical's writers, encountered blatant anti-Semitism in Spain while buying last-minute production supplies and describing the show they were for.
"Their reactions were so [automatically hostile] because of the mentality â€¦ history is repeating itself there," said Osborne as she recalled her friend's story. "She said she felt like she was walking into a [Jewish memoir] from the 1930s or '40s."
The war between Hizbullah and Israel broke out while the show was on tour, and though the group's first reaction was worry about what was going on in Jerusalem, cast members said they came to see the play as an opportunity to do some public relations work on behalf of Israel.
"The anti-Semitic feeling in Europe is real and in your face," said King. "So for us to be going around as actors and singers waving the Israeli flag is significant. We pull up with the [play's promotional] poster with the Israeli flag and Hebrew lettering. It's obvious it's a Jewish thing ... an Israeli thing."
King said the audience response demonstrated a strong support for Israel among at least some Europeans. The Paris show, according to King and Osborne, inspired responses far more emotional and enthusiastic than the reserved reaction they expected.
In one of the later performances, the group played at a small pro-Israel convent in Germany which also serves as a youth hostel. Staying at the hostel was a group of Egyptian Christians who all wanted to see the show.
"It really impacted them," said King. "The guys helped with the loading-in and loading-out of the sets. We are still presenting a Biblical truth to them. Whether they are Arab or not, they have a responsibility to the truth of the Bible. We were able to bridge a gap with Arab Christians, even [those] with ties to the conflict."