‘A Rocky Mountain Christmas Celebration’
December 15, 2005
FRISCO – This Christmas, a little Sicilian donkey named Flapjack will once again trod the boards and make his annual, highly-anticipated stage appearance in Summit County.Flapjack will be joined by a cast of 40 choir members, 50 actors, a technical team and a troupe of Pygmy goats for the biggest show in town, the annual “Rocky Mountain Christmas Celebration,” presented at Rocky Mountain Bible Church in Frisco.Produced and directed by Tommy Ryan for the past four years, the community pageant has become an annual tradition that has grown in size, scope and popularity every year. Ryan spent 32 years as the minister of music at the First Baptist Church in Marble Falls, Tex., where for nearly 20 years he put on a popular annual pageant of the life of Christ, reminiscent of the “Passion Play of Oberammergau.”After moving here in December 2002, Pastor Bruce Miles of the Rocky Mountain Baptist Church got wind of his extraordinary directorial abilities and asked him if he would take over the annual Christmas musical.Ryan agreed, and immediately implemented one major change – instead of just having the choir perform a Christmas cantata, as they had done every year, he added a dramatic script. Starting with the creation in Genesis, Ryan’s dramatic vision incorporated the Old Testament story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac as a harbinger of the crucifixion of Jesus. Then came the traditional Nativity scene, beginning with the entrance into Bethlehem of Mary and Joseph – with Mary riding a donkey.
The first year was a smash hit. “I had no idea of coming up here and doing anything like this,” Ryan joked. “I thought I was retired.”Instead, Ryan found that he had created a new Summit County tradition.This year, Ryan is incorporating two new elements into the production. The first is a fully-orchestrated music track. The second is a new finale, featuring the entire cast in an elaborate heavenly tableau, complete with wings, white robes and banners, representative of the Second Coming of Christ. The vast majority of the all-volunteer cast returns to perform in the pageant year after year. But new faces are always welcome, and Ryan puts out a call for cast members starting in mid-summer. “We don’t exclude anybody from this performance,” he said. “Our church isn’t denominational, and everyone is invited to participate in the pageant.”This year, the choir has been rehearsing since Labor Day, while the drama cast began their rehearsals in November. In addition, a technical crew of 15 runs lights, sound, and keeps the three spotlights trained on the performers. Many of the tech crew are from Summit High School; Ryan trained them himself.Also waiting in the wings once again this year will be Flapjack the donkey, lent for his annual star turn by Summit County resident Sam McCleneghan.
Flapjack won’t be the only cast member belonging to the animal kingdom. For several months now, Ryan has put out a statewide casting call – for lambs. “Every year we try to find some lambs, but lambing season here is in the late spring and I’ve had to call all over the state,” he said. “This year, it looks like we’re going to have to use Pygmy goats instead. They look like sheep,” he added.Ryan said that the pageant’s main expenses are the music tracks and the technical supplies. A new spotlight alone costs $1,000. Fortunately for the budget, Ryan uses costumes and props from his former productions in Texas. Otherwise, everything is funded by donations which are handled by Rocky Mountain Bible Church.Along with the sheer numbers and size of the production, the one thing that sets it apart every year, in the eyes of many, is its professionalism. Ryan said that, as part of his ministry and the ministry of the church, the Christmas pageant is too important not to do well.”Either we do it first class or we’re not going to do it,” he said. “I wouldn’t do this if we couldn’t do it professionally. That’s the only way to go. Otherwise, it would be a detriment to what we’re trying to do.”Choir member Gin Simmons has been in the pageant every year, and is enthusiastic about the level of leadership Ryan provides.”The whole reason this is able to come to fruition is because of Tommy Ryan,” she said. “Not only does he have the skills, but also the love of the community to put this together. Even though we have a small church, we have a great many talented people, and he’s been able to get so many to participate.
“And he gives us an opportunity to do something we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” she added. “We are honored to get to perform for him.” Simmons is especially enthusiastic about the melding of drama and music in the production. “This brings it to life,” she said. “It makes it very exciting, and kids get an honest feel for the real story by seeing it as well as hearing it.” Simmons said that, for a lot of people, the annual pageant brings the season together. “Sometimes we just need to stop and rethink what this season is all about,” she said. “This birth changed the world. It needs to be remembered.”Christmas story told theatrically”A Rocky Mountain Christmas Celebration” will be performed on Dec. 18, 20 and 22 at 7 p.m., and on Dec. 24 at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Rocky Mountain Bible Church, 600 Main St., Frisco. Performances are free, but contributions are welcome. For more information call (970) 668-3395.