In February, Paulin Hall will host the U.S. premiere of “Jericho Road,” a musical written and produced by Lindsay Morton, associate academic dean for PUC. The show was first produced at Avondale University in Australia, and then in Sydney and Perth. As all three were highly successful, Morton suggested it be done at PUC. The rest, as they say, is history.
Written in response to “The Last Five Years,” a musical by Jason Robert Brown, “Jericho Road” is a boy-meets-girl, then boy-leaves-girl story. It centers on Leila, a part coincidentally played by PUC student Leila Beltran, and her husband, Jake, played by PUC student (and music major) Tyler Wilensky.
“I fell in love with ‘The Last Five Years,’ and found myself wondering how the story would have been different if the couple had been Christian,” Morton explains. So she began pulling together pieces she’d composed over the years that fit the story she felt developing, and composed a few more around them.
The driving questions of “Jericho Road” are: What does it mean to be faithful to a spouse who is unfaithful to you? And how can we be faithful to a God who seems absent?
“It’s a difficult topic, but one that’s so important to talk about on a university campus where some young adults are starting to think about life partners,” Morton says.
Musicals are Morton’s passion, and “Jericho Road” is her fourth. Though she did take lessons for a few years, Morton’s musical background is largely self-taught, and her compositions began at age 16 as “a form of therapy and an act of prayer.” Despite not reading music well and scoring everything by ear, Morton has always found herself working with talented and disciplined people who bring the music to life, to whom she says she is deeply indebted.
When “The Last Five Years” caught her attention, Morton couldn’t shake the idea of writing a musical response from a Christian point of view. The twist, however, is in the tagline: “You choose where the story ends.” You see, “Jericho Road” has three different endings.
“I’m an English professor!” Morton says with a laugh when asked why she wrote three different endings. She continues by explaining that she teaches her students the concept of closure, which has three parts: resolution of conflicts, questions, and expectations. The problem with delivering closure, Morton says, is that usually it comes with some kind of moral point, which she completely wanted to avoid. “Divorce is a complex and difficult topic, so the three endings are designed to avoid easy answers or resolving the story in a particular way.”
To be clear, attending one night of the show will give you a complete story—but attending all three will give you more to think about.
“The male lead, Jake, really struggles with the power of choice,” Morton says. “He feels like a victim, even though his choices led him to the conflict in the story—a concept he fails to grasp. My hope is that the three endings avoid saying, ‘This is how it is or should be,’ and instead put the emphasis back on what it means to be faithful, no matter the circumstances.”
With a limited musical background and strong writing skills, Morton could easily have chosen to write a short story, play, essay, or poem in response to “The Last Five Years,” but she didn’t. She chose a musical. Why?
“I’ve seen over and over again how music and theater can push past people’s defenses and tell stories that speak to the heart,” Morton explains. She points out that God used men and women to literally act out messages showing people different results of their actions (think: Jeremiah and Hosea). “He knows acting can reach us in ways sermons can’t. Musical theater can do the same thing,” she concludes: “move us to compassion, reflection, discussion, and catharsis, which is what I’m hoping this musical will do for our audiences.”
“Jericho Road” premieres in Paulin Hall on Thursday, Feb. 23.