“The Cross and the Light” goes past the resurrection of Christ through Pentecost. (Steve Ragland)
More than just another Easter play, "The Cross and the Light" is the complete story of the passion of Christ. At least that's what Kelly Nieto wants audiences to understand when they see her production.
"I was told by God to tell the rest of the story," says Nieto, local playwright and executive producer of the play that premieres Sunday at Detroit's Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts.
"The Cross and the Light" is an expanded version of Nieto's previously produced passion play, called "Living Stations," that has been staged over Easter since 2002.
"Act one of 'The Cross and the Light' is what 40,000 people have seen through the years," Nieto says. "But now we take it from the empty tomb to Pentecost."
Nieto, a former stand-up comedian, wrote the lyrics and collaborated on the original score with Nick Dalbis of Cross Roads Productions in White Lake Township.
"It was written like a movie, with not much silence. So there's a musical bed just like a movie," says Nieto, who calls act one "theatrical" and "presentational" and act two a "full-blown live musical" but without any dancing.
"I'm not sure the apostles would've been doing a kick line. You can't have Mary Magdalene do a swirl," she laughs.
The 47-member cast of "The Cross," Nieto explains, is ethnically and doctrinally diverse.
"We have an African-American Jesus. We have an Asian Pontius Pilot. We have a white Mother Mary. And, at the same time, we're a wonderful blend of all faiths because it's not a Catholic story; it's not a Presbyterian story. It's the Christian story right out of the Bible," Nieto says.
For Detroiter Kenny Watson, it's an honor and a privilege to portray Jesus.
"For me to be playing that role, it's been somewhat of dream," he says. "Having seen different examples of what Jesus looked like, it never really looked like me."
Watson played the apostle Thadeus in last year's "Living Stations."
Nieto says Watson came into that role by chance. "Last year, third rehearsal, we'd already cast everyone. This man walks in and he looks like a movie star. And I'm thinking to myself, 'Who is this guy?'"
On the spot, she asked him to sing, cast him and wrote a song for him.
After watching his performance, Nieto says, "I knew he had to play the part of Christ this year, and I knew that's why God sent him."
Throughout rehearsals, Nieto says cast members commented on the very human moments their characters experienced.
"Did you ever think how devastated Thomas would be that he was left out? And Mary Magdalene gets to be the one to go and tell the other apostles that Christ has risen. She has to find the courage to tell them, and part of her must be thinking, 'They're never gonna believe me.' So there are these very human moments in the play," Nieto says.
"And that's why every person who has any faith or any curiosity about faith or just someone who loves theater has to come to Music Hall," she says. "I guarantee they will walk away profoundly changed. We see it every year."
'The Cross and the Light'
7:30 p.m. Sunday; 10 a.m. Tuesday (Student day); 10 a.m. Wednesday (Senior Citizen day); noon and 8 p.m. March 29; 3 and 8 p.m. March 30; and 3 and 7:30 p.m. March 31
Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts
350 Madison, Detroit
Andrea Daniel is a freelance reporter.