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Mary Magdalene’s Journey: a Blues Gospel

7.5. 2019 Written By: Gordon Houser 675 Times read

Blues is a perfect genre for telling the story of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ closest disciples and the first to see the Risen Jesus. Little is said about her in the Gospels, other than that Jesus freed her from seven demons. (And no, nowhere does it say she was a prostitute.) It’s a musical genre concerned about injustice and employing lament.

Mary Sprunger-Froese, artist-in-residence for RAWtools in Colorado Springs, Colorado, plays Mary in this one-woman musical, while Bryan Miller plays sax and recorder, and Vern Rempel plays keyboard. Miller is from Colorado Springs, and Rempel is pastor of Beloved Community Mennonite Church in Littleton, Colorado. Sprunger-Froese and Rempel collaborated on many of the songs, which reflect a mixture of styles but are influenced by the blues.

Sprunger-Froese movingly portrays the captivity Mary Magdalene feels with her physical and mental disabilities, while facing scorn from fellow villagers and abuse from the uncle she works for. This extrabiblical section, a riff, as it were, off the statement that she had seven demons, is the most effective part of the musical, and the music here is based on a song by Muddy Waters.

After Mary meets Jesus, she retells familiar stories from the Gospels, though they get a feminist twist that reminds us just how radical Jesus was in his welcoming actions toward women. The narration becomes didactic in places but also offers interesting insights, such as the cultural meaning of turning the other cheek.

Early on, Mary points out that seven represents wholeness rather than a specific number, then sings a song that names her seven demons, one at a time.

Sprunger-Froese ably shows Mary’s anguish and struggle but also her joy when she learns that Jesus is risen. It’s a heartfelt performance. And the music is simple yet superb. The play ends with the song “Rain Down” (from Sing the Journey), with the audience joining in on the chorus. Rempel and Sprunger-Froese have added some new verses.

Kudos to these three for producing an excellent musical about a neglected figure and employing blues in the process. Let there be more such productions.

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