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Inspired to go higher for holiday
Idlewild Baptist returns to its wow-worthy past with a Christmas show.
By SHERY KAY, Times Correspondent
Published December 9, 2007
Amy Reed, 22, and Ryan Trippe, 20, joke at a rehearsal for Christmas on the Air, a return to glitzy Idlewild shows with a full plot.
[Ross Mantle | Times]
LUTZ - With all the pageantry and grandeur of a Broadway show, Christmas on the Air began a three-night run Friday at Idlewild Baptist Church.
For almost 20 years, Idlewild was known for its "Singing Christmas Tree" shows, first presented in 1986 with a cast of about 60 choir members and a small hired orchestra.
Over the years the fully scripted show grew, adding more professional costumes, backdrops, advanced choreography and eventually a large orchestra composed solely of church members.
But when Idlewild moved from Bearss Avenue to its sprawling new campus on Van Dyke in 2005, the legendary singing trees were retired and the Christmas show became a more toned-down presentation hosted by outside guests.
This year, the big lights are back with high-tech, audiovisual flair and a show that has a full plot, mostly at the urging of Idlewild's pastor, Ken Whitten.
"He's an incredible storyteller," says Ron Upton, minister of family worship and the producer of Christmas on the Air. "He wanted us to get back to a story line, so we tried to fulfill his vision, and we were thrilled that he was ready to make that commitment to build this back up to that."
Upton has produced all of the church's Christmas shows since the beginning. In the early years he was involved in every aspect of the production, from hand-painting sets to helping to write the script. Some years he put in 120-hour weeks working behind the stage and on rehearsals, he said.
This year's cast includes 150 young children, 100 students, 250 adults and a 75-member orchestra. And Upton is backed up by dozens of church members volunteering in every facet of the production.
Upton began working in May, previewing possible holiday songs to include. He took his selections to Gayle Dargan, who had written scripts for past performances.
She then spent three months creating Christmas on the Air, a portrayal of four characters who are voicing their views on the holiday and the Christmas music they hear playing at all hours.
When Upton put on the first performance in 1986, his budget was $20,000. This year, Christmas on the Airis costing almost $100,000 to produce. Some of this will be covered by ticket sales, and the rest subsidized by the church.
Extravagant? Upton is quick to note that the performance represents just one of dozens of ministries at Idlewild at work during the Christmas season, and it's also a critical way for the church to reach out to the community.
A version of this story appears in some regional editions of the Times.
If you go
Christmas on the Airwill be presented at 7:30 p.m. today. Tickets are $8 and can be purchased online at www.idlewild.org or at the door. Parking is free, and the church cafe will open at 6 p.m. Idlewild Baptist is on Van Dyke Road, 1 mile east of Dale Mabry Highway. For information, call the church office at 264-1515.