Against all odds, the world premiere of Daniel The Musical was not only staged in the Jerusalem Theatre last Thursday night but was received with a standing ovation.
Ever since God inspired South African singer/songwriter Joe Niemand to write the musical and to launch it in Israel in October as a love gift to the Jewish people, the project became a “mission impossible” but for the hand of God behind the faith steps of the production team.
First, the only theatre in Jerusalem capable of hosting a full-scale stage musical was not available until 2021 — until a slot miraculously opened at the time that God had specified, in the Jewish high holidays season. The team were informed of the breakthrough a week after the 30-member cast began rehearsals.
Later, two of the cast members — including a lead performer who lost his passport — missed their flights to Israel a week before the premiere and only joined the group later.
Then, with the clock ticking relentlessly, as the team scrambled to rehearse and prepare the stage, the Israeli Customs Administration impounded their massive production set that had been flown in from South Africa. When I checked with Julita Kok, a member of the production team on the evening before the premiere, she said they were still awaiting delivery of half their set.
Meanwhile, Jewish religious voices undermined the project by warning people that the musical was a Christian attempt to missionise Jewish people camouflaged as a cultural event.
But God made away for the premiere to open on time and according to a report published on Monday by Jerusalem-based news agency Israel Today: “With its African voices, thundering African drums and pulsating rhythm, Daniel The Musical proved to be a major success as it played out. An inspired musical production depicted the gripping story of the heroic faith of the figure of Biblical Daniel.
“The production accurately presented the life of Daniel, as it is recorded in the Bible, while giving it an African twist. One could not avoid having flashbacks of scenes from the Lion King as one watched the Babylonian court magicians play out their roles.
“With its all-African cast of 30 singers, dancers and actors, it brought to life the amazing story of Daniel as an African adventure. With the flair and passion of Africa this full-scale stage production proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Israel Today also commented on the allegations that the production had a Christian missionary agenda. “These claims could not be further from the truth. The production depicted the story of Daniel in its traditional Biblical setting. Niemand, who is a committed Christian, stated emphatically that the show is a musical production to show solidarity with, and love towards, Israel and the Jewish people.”
Kok told Gateway News yesterday that the show was being very well-received in Jerusalem.
“At one of our shows there were 90 nations represented and that was exactly what God told us to do — to go and bless Israel and the nations and that was quite spectacular.”
She said that in honour of the Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) holiday they decided to have an early show on Monday and offer tickets for free. Many people attended and, as usual, she said a few words after the performance.
“And one of the things I said was that God told us to bring this musical to Israel and to bless the Israeli people,” said Kok.
Afterwards, a Jewish woman who had watched the show came to her and asked if they had really put on the production just for Israel, or whether the Jerusalem performance was not part of a world tour.
Kok confirmed that God had indeed told them that the show was specifically to bless the people of Israel. She said the woman was “blown away” and said she would “tell everybody”.
She said at one of their performances the audience included people from 19 nations. “And that was exactly what God told us to do — to take the show to go and bless Israel and bless the nations.”
She said representatives of the SA Embassy in Israel had attended a performance “and were very proud of what South Africa had to offer”.
“We [the cast and crew] are very tired. We have been working very, very hard and it’s hot. And it’s up and down and up and down. But it’s so worth it and we can rest when we back in SA,” she said.
Daniel the Musical will run in the Jerusalem Theatre until Tuesday October 22.
Kok said that while God was using the musical to bless Israel and the nations, He was also blessing the cast. None of them had been to Israel before and they were being deeply touched by the experience. On a rest day nearly half of the cast were baptised in the Jordan River.
“And of course, we, being singers, ended up singing and it touched the people around us who were at the site [of the baptisms]. There was even a soldier on the Jordan side and he stood there with his gun and he just watched and watched and I am sure that God worked in his heart as well. That was truly a very beautiful experience.”
Floating on the Dead Sea was another memorable highlight for the cast.