On the Town: Church rolls out its own red carpet

There was no rousing opening musical number by Justin Timberlake nor a botched finale due to an envelope mishap, but a healthy sprinkling of Academy Award stardust rained down on congregants of Burbank's Westminster Presbyterian Church as it presented its 15th annual Oscar Extravaganza this past Sunday. 

The church, renowned locally for its congregation peppered with film and television industry professionals, has a longstanding history of incorporating theatrical performances into worship services, most notably at Easter and Christmas.

Its annual performance of "Nativity: The Musical!" — which turns the Christmas pageant concept upside down and inside out with a cast of nontraditional characters, pop culture references, borscht belt gags, hilarious song parodies and a plethora of puns — has become such a must-see event that the church presents it six times over a four day period. 

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"Our Oscar Extravaganza is different than 'Nativity: The Musical!' because it is presented as a part of our regular Sunday worship service," said the show's, writer, producer and director, Greg Baldwin. "We began doing it 15 years ago as just a 10-minute part of the service, but, as the years have gone by, it became so popular it has taken over the entire service."   

While Sunday's Academy Award-themed production was greatly toned down compared to the over-the-top theatrical license taken with the Christmas pageant, the show still included many of the crazy characters and a puns-o-plenty push of the envelope for which the church has become famous.

Beginning with a beautiful opening performance of "California Dreamin'" by Emily Barnett as Queen Califia, for whom California was named, the show, co-hosted by Baldwin and the church's pastor, Paul Clairville, treated attendees to a mix of comical, inspirational and poignant tributes to Oscar-nominated films. 

From a tear-inducing tribute to the film "Jackie," that included a touching reading of King Arthur's "one brief shining moment" reminder from "Camelot," and a beautiful prayer offered up for the world's artisans and creators, to the crazier moments that included appearances by Beelzebub, played by Paul Rogus, and Ben-Hur, portrayed by Jay Gerig, the show also included an "In Memoriam" segment that paid homage to the late Carrie Fisher as Princess Lea, played by Jessica Norwood, Alan Rickman as Severus Snape from "Harry Potter," portrayed by Shane Arenal, and Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka, played by Bill Motz. 

Rounding out the cast of Sunday's performance were Matt Bond, Jeff Barnett, Bob Griffin, D.J. Clairville, John Chew, Marissa, Rebekah and Elliott Maynes, Trenton Rogers, Tressa Tingle, John Estrada, Terrie Snell, Madison Herbold, Henry Kloch, Glenn Boggs and Megan Gerig. 

As last week's show concluded, with the beautiful sharing of real-life moments, both heartbreaking and triumphant, by some of the church's congregants who work in the entrainment industry, Baldwin told the assemblage to never forget that art, in all of its forms, like our faith, reminds us of our humanity, and that the dreams we dream are what keeps hope and love alive. 

"God uses art to touch our souls," said an emotional Baldwin just prior to the show's finale, which featured the entire cast in an upbeat rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business" with parody lyrics that promoted God's saving grace, hope, faith and love.

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DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

Copyright © 2017, Burbank Leader

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