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Clear Branch Musical — Bringing Easter to life

The singers lower their heads. The music dies away. The technicians kill the house lights and the powerful strobe fades down to nothing, leaving the auditorium of Clear Branch Baptist Church in a deep darkness.

That is the cue for Laney Kate Earls. Without a sound, the 11-year-old carefully feels her way through the black auditorium, past the cast members in their robes of many colors to her spot at center stage. When the lights creep slowly up, there she lies, motionless on her back, her face covered by a long white shroud, the cloth of death.

In Clear Branch’s Easter musical, “God is Good,” Earls plays the part of the daughter of Jairus, whom Christ raised from the dead in the Gospels.

Earls will be resurrected, too.

The dirge gives way to celebration as the music rises in intensity. The singers lift their voices, the lights shine brighter and down the aisle comes the King of Kings — Skip Gennaro, playing the part of Jesus, his simple robe the color of wine in the spotlight’s green glow. He ascends the stage and throws the shroud back from Earls’ face, pulling her to her feet and walking her away, stage left, as the choir reaches a long crescendo and the scene ends in delight, a few singers whooping and calling out unscripted “amens.”

It’s a powerful moment in the performance, and no one can tell Jesus is scared to death the whole time.

“I have a little stage fright. I like to be back stage, but Jesus is the reason for the whole thing, and I couldn’t say ‘no’ when they wanted me to play the part,” Gennaro confessed. “If I can help one person come to know the Lord, a little stage fright is worth it.”

Gennaro and Earls are just two of more than 60 members of Clear Branch who will put “God is Good” onstage twice during Easter weekend. The first showing will be at 6 p.m. tonight, and the second will be at 10 a.m. Easter Sunday morning. The event is free and the public is invited — encouraged — to attend.

The performance tells the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in numerous scenes set to music, with actors, soloists, narration and even an old-school men’s quartet.

“It runs from traditional to current music — there’s something for the young and the old,” said Copiah-Lincoln Community College history teacher David Higgs. “It’s a powerful story anyway, but the music is very moving. People can take a message out of it, and it becomes theirs.”

Higgs is the musical’s narrator. In between scenes of singing and acting, he uses his deep, wood-barrel voice to set up the action, giving the audience a reminder on what’s coming next and reiterating the heart of Jesus.

“God gave me a speaking voice, not a singing voice,” Higgs said.

With Higgs’ setting the stage,  “God is Good” brings the story of the Gospels into action.

The audience will see a large group of Clear Branch youth align on the steps and sing their parts, leaving palms scattered on the carpet behind them to soften the path of Jesus. Christ will bring Earls back to life and heal the bleeding woman. The disciples come down from the lobby bearing signs of sin and symbolically hand them over to Jesus before taking their places for the Last Supper. A beaten Messiah will reenter the church with a cross on his back, driven before the Roman soldiers, before being nailed up and crucified. They carry his body away.

But of course he comes back. That’s called Easter.

“We’re going to make the Bible come to life,” said play director Angela Britt. “Sometimes when you see it you realize the depth of what Jesus did for you.”