LifeLines “Get in the Spirit!”

By Ian Robinson, Major

On May 31, 1975, Spirit!, the fourth Gowans and Larsson musical, had its first full performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Abbreviated performances had been staged the previous year at London’s Regent Hall Corps and at the Scottish Congress in the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow. A huge success, the musical told the story of the early church from Pentecost to the martyrdom of Stephen. It featured songs familiar to Salvationists today, such as “Ask, Seek, Knock,” “Burning, Burning,” “For the Mighty Moving of the Spirit,” and perhaps most famously, “To Be Like Jesus.” All made their way into The Salvation Army song book.

Fast forward 37 years to The Gathering where a brand new musical called Spirit! II: Empire will have its premiere performances on June 8 and 9. Written by retired General John Larsson’s sons Kevin and Karl, with lyrics by U.K. officer Major Malcolm Westwood, it picks up where the original Spirit! left off, telling the rest of the story of the book of Acts. I think it would be safe to say that this is not your father’s musical!

I’m not sure that any of the songs will make it into the new Salvation Army song book. This is not because they lack quality—the songs are Broadway-ready, the play is filled with humor and pathos, and the backing track has been produced to the highest professional standards. It is, however, a very 21st century production that we hope will excite, provoke and motivate you to a new level of commitment to Jesus Christ. If it doesn’t, then you’d better check your spiritual pulse.

Somehow, I was persuaded to participate without realizing the commitment I was making. Roughly calculated I will have spent 99 hours in rehearsal plus another 10 hours in the recording studio before I step on stage for the opening performance. Others have given even more. Major Steve Bradley has the lead role of Paul, and I don’t know where he found time to memorize his hundreds of lines. I had difficulty with just six! Kevin, Karl and Malcolm spent many months prior to our rehearsals preparing the music, lyrics and script. Jacqui Larsson, Barbara Allen, Pili Moore and others have given countless hours coordinating all those rehearsals, feeding the cast of 70, and reminding us every week what songs and scenes we needed to learn. Martin Hunt gave up many valuable evenings recording and producing the CD. The musical is a production of the Southern California Division, and we are all very proud of it.

All of which reminds me that the last musical I took part in was Take Over Bid in 1968. It had just been written by John Gowans and John Larsson, their first of 10. Who would have guessed that 44 years later I would be part of this history-making event, as a new generation of Salvation Army musicals is born.

If you don’t have a ticket, beg and borrow. In years to come you will want to be able to say, “I was there!” This event is not to be missed. And when you are comfortably in your seat, listen for the first memorable line, “Faster, the north-easter is upon us!” shouted by a very agitated ship’s captain with a strong Scottish accent. Then sit back and enjoy the marvellous presentation of Spirit! II: Empire.

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