RONKS, Pa.—The Sight & Sound Theatre, located right in the heart of Lancaster county, was founded by locals Glenn and Shirley Eshelman, who sought to provide a venue for Biblical stories to come to life. With angels and fountains adorning its exteriors, as well as a central rock and water garden that showcases a lion and a lamb lying together in peace and harmony, the theater is set for that which it is known: family-friendly, timeless stories from scripture that inspire viewers.
Sight & Sound’s main feature this 2023 season is “Moses,” the story of the deliverer of Israelites from their bondage in Egypt and a great prophet in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. His story is well-known even among nonbelievers due to its many iterations: from the Charlton Heston depiction in Cecil B. DeMille’s “Ten Commandments” on the big screen to DreamWorks Pictures’s animated version, “The Prince of Egypt.” Now, live on stage, the Sight & Sound Theatre brings his story to life in a production that can only be described as one of biblical proportions.
Moses’s Story in the Limelight“Moses” covers the great prophet’s story from the time he was placed in a basket by his mother to save him from sure death at the hands of the Pharaoh’s soldiers to the time when he led the Israelites in their triumphant crossing of the Red Sea. In between, the play covers Moses’s struggle to find out who he is and where his destiny lies. The playwrights stayed true to the original Biblical text and the scenes are enlivened by original songs and dance.
The performances are punctuated with stunning, brightly colored costumes adding to joyful scenes such as when Moses meets his wife-to-be, Zipporah, or somber brown rags on the Israelites to mirror their suffering at the hands of their captors.
Musical scenes feature soaring heartfelt vocals, such as Moses’s Hebrew mother singing about the loss of her son in a counterpoint duet with the Pharaoh’s sister who finds her prayers answered by a new son. The show then ends with the entire cast in a rousing song of a freed people whose prayers have finally been answered.
Performers Give Stellar PerformancesIn the beginning, Moses (Shane Litchfield) stutters. But later, as Moses gains confidence in carrying out his mission and faith in God, his stammering disappears. His serious character is offset by Aaron’s gregariousness and joviality, well executed by actor Rodney Coe.
Daniel Gorham’s complexity as Pharaoh alternates between cackles mocking the God of the slaves and agonizing howls as he carries the body of his dead son. These scenes are fraught with emotion and intensity.
Sight & Sound shows provide no playbills detailing the cast and crew for each show, and this is by design. The company highlights the messages from the Bible stories rather than the actors and actresses. In the absence of a curtain call, one of the performers reminds the audience of God's profound love for mankind and ends on that high note.
A Spectacle on Stage
With seating for up to 2,000 visitors, a 300-foot wraparound stage, and with a stage that can accommodate sets up to 400 feet high, Sight & Sound’s intends the audience to be fully immersed in the show, as if they, too, are part of the story. The theater has three stages; aside from the main center stage, the action set in Goshen (where Israelites lived in Egypt) appears on the sides. Viewers may be surprised to see horses clip-clopping down the aisles with Pharaoh’s soldiers on their backs. The Angel of Death makes her dramatic entrance as she swoops down from her lofty place above the audience members’ heads.
It seems the theater spared no expense for the epic retelling of Moses’s story. Ever-changing lighting reflects the moods and emotions; the big-screen projection shows the shifting desert sands as Moses wanders after his banishment from Egypt. The behemoth replica of Mount Sinai on stage weighs 26,985 pounds and provides the setting for important scenes like the “burning bush” and the inscription of the Ten Commandments onto two tablets.
‘How did they do that?’My 9-year-old son articulated (in hushed tones) what was probably in the minds of many in the audience: “How did they do that?” How did they create a bush that did not burn? How did they change the shepherd’s staff into a slithering snake as it moves down the stairs on the stage set? How did they turn the waters of the Nile River red? How did they show the pestilence of frogs, gnats, locusts, and the rest of the plagues in order to soften Pharaoh’s obstinate heart? How did they make the Red Sea waters part?
Not all magicians will reveal their secrets, of course, but viewers will be astounded by how the production pulls off these visual sleights of hand.
And, despite the show being more than two hours long, it presents the stories in such a way that even children find engaging and enjoyable.
Over the years, the Sight & Sound Theatre has been providing wholesome entertainment with the production value of a Broadway show in the heart of Amish farmlands. Directors, writers, props people, electricians, lighting technicians, cast members, musicians, and animal trainers all work together to create a show that is not just spellbinding and entertaining, but one that carries a strong message of God’s love as well.
‘Moses’ Sight & Sound Theatre 300 Hartman Bridge Rd., Ronks, Pa. Tickets: 800-377-1277 or Sight-Sound.com Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission) Closes: Oct. 7, 2023
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