KENT: A Broadway show featuring singing and dancing cowboys may seem an unlikely place to go to for inspiration when creating a Sunday morning worship service.
But a hit song from that show — Oklahoma! — and other Broadway tunes were on center stage Sunday during Christ Episcopal Church’s first Broadway Musical Mass.
The church’s choir, for its processional hymn, belted out a hit song from Oklahoma!: Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.
“You can’t possibly have a better opening than Oh, What a Beautiful Morning. It has such a soaring melody,” said church member Katherine Burke, who picked out the tunes for the service with her husband, Jonathan Swoboda.
The selections, woven into a traditional service, were a hit with the roughly 90 fellow church members and visitors, who enthusiastically applauded at the beginning and end of the service.
“The music was wonderful,” said visitor Karen Davis, an educational aide who lives in Tallmadge. “The choir was awesome. We were wondering how they would fit [the songs] into a church service.”
Davis said she was especially touched by the final hymn, Brotherhood of Man from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
“It brought back memories,” Davis said, explaining that she and her husband, Larry Davis, who also attended Sunday’s service, sang Brotherhood of Man as teenagers as part of a singing troupe. Larry Davis is a music teacher at Tallmadge High School.
Packed into the church’s wooden pews, the couple and others in attendance joined in on the chorus, singing: “A benevolent brotherhood of man. A noble tie that binds … ”
The worship service’s prelude also had an inclusive, jovial tone, with the choir singing “Consider yourself at home! Consider yourself one of the family!” from the song Consider Yourself from Oliver!, the musical based on Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist.
Swoboda, who accompanied on piano, said he and his wife picked out well-known tunes as well as ones that might have been unfamiliar to attendees.
Both Swoboda and Burke work in the School of Theater and Dance at Kent State University, where he is a professor and she is an adjunct instructor.
Day by Day from Godspell, was the only song featured that had a religious theme.
Still, Swoboda said, “It was hard to weed songs out … There’s a lot of more repertoire that’s appropriate than people think.”
Choir members, wearing their white robes, said they enjoyed singing the tunes as worship songs.
“It gave you a chance to strut your stuff in a different way,” choir member Liz Pryor said.
The Rev. Julie Blake Fisher said she embraced the idea of the Broadway Musical Mass when it percolated from the congregation a while back.
“I was thrilled,” she said. “We had already started doing some out-of-the-box music,” including offering a Mountain Music Mass, when musicians’ fiddles, banjos and guitars take center stage.
The church also has been the site of a U2charist featuring recorded music of the rock band U2. (The U.S. Episcopal Church started the U2charist services, which call on congregations to support international Millennium Development Goals, including eradicating extreme poverty.)
Christ Episcopal Church is located at 118 South Mantua Street in Kent.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.