What if Jesus had been born in your town? Rather than tell about the birth of Jesus from the traditional viewpoints of Joseph and Mary, this musical gives us a refreshingly different look from ordinary people who were there. A small group of adults and children befriend the holy family for more than a year, from helping them find the stable for the birth to a celebration for 15-month old baby Jesus, which turns into a bittersweet evening when the Wise Men warn them to flee. The story begins as Bethlehem prepares for visitors in “Company’s Coming” and we see travelers as they arrive in “Back to Bethlehem.” Before venturing on their quest, the Wise Men sing “Song of the Magoi” as they hope for fame, having discovered the birth of the Jewish Messiah. In the touching song, “Tiny Heartbeat,” Mary and a small ensemble express praise and wonder at the Savior’s birth. In Act II, the children want to celebrate Jesus’s first birthday, even if it was three months ago. So at the Feast of Dedication they give Jesus their gifts, followed by Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior, who also give gifts but warn that King Herod will harm Jesus. However, if you knew your time with Jesus was short and you had no gift good enough to give him, what would you do? Young Aaron sings “What Shall I Offer Him?” and kneels before Jesus to give his only belongings: his carpenter’s apron and a wooden mallet Joseph helped him make. Aaron also promises to love and serve his Lord. The musical ends with the company singing the uplifting “What We Have We Give.”
PLAYWRIGHT PATRICIA HILL TALKS ABOUT HER MUSICAL
A BIRTHDAY IN BETHLEHEM
Q: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS MUSICAL?
A: Inspiration for A Birthday in Bethlehem came from Christina Rossetti’s poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” a song titled, “The Jesus Gift,” by Gilbert M. Martin, and our congregation’s advent theme that year: “What Shall I Offer Him?” We wanted to do a musical, but the “theater people” in our congregation had moved away. So I wrote a play and a song, “What Shall I Offer Him?” and we did A Birthday in Bethlehem as a reader’s theater, adding “The Jesus Gift,” from our Christmas choir book.
Q: WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE PART OR LINE IN THE PLAY OR WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SONG? WHY?
A: My favorite song in A Birthday in Bethlehem is “A Carpenter’s Son.” My favorite line in it is “Or maybe Messiah’s fish swim right into His hands.” (I think about it every time I am fishing!) I like the song because I relate to Joseph, feeling inadequate to serve the King of kings. I also relate to Aaron’s perspective as a Note to Self: Be you, do your best and let Jesus be who He is. Love Him. Spend time with Him and do life with Him. To teach our children to love and honor God is the best thing we can do for them. Another favorite line is Balthazar’s description of the Bethlehem night sky: “Those stars are like diamonds on velvet. A million fragments of brilliant light.” (Memories of sleeping under the stars at Girl Scout camp on a summer night in southern Michigan and a line from “The Jesus Gift”: “Shall I spangle jewels like stars above?”)
Q: WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART IN CREATING THIS MUSICAL?
A: The writing was not difficult. It all sprang from “What would I do if…” Lyrics rose from the dialogue and music from the sounds and rhythms of the words. The most difficult part of creating this musical was having only me to speak the lines and sing the songs over the years as the book and music matured. It is a thrill for them to come to life in production.
Q: WHAT DID YOU TRY TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS MUSICAL?
A: The people of the Christmas story were real people. I wanted to make a connection with them, and with the reality of the Good News of Christ’s birth: God is with us!
I thought about Joseph and Mary, living in Bethlehem with Jesus. Everyone knew who Jesus was, because of the shepherds’ testimony. Surely the innkeeper, mortified, would give his best rooms to the family. Children would beg their shepherd friend to tell about the angels over and over. They’d listen as Mary sang Jesus to sleep. Girls would hope to babysit.
The Wise Men would dream of fame and fortune as they pursued the meaning of amazing signs in the sky. (We saw a planetarium “time rewind.” There really were prodigious signs.) When they realized who the stars proclaimed, they’d “sacrifice all glory and fame to bow at His feet and whisper His name.”
Joseph would worry about rearing a king. Any of us would feel as if nothing we had could be good enough for Jesus.
“…Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” (Christina Rossetti: “In the Bleak Midwinter”)