For six months, Daniel Smith has practiced how to part the Red Sea.
Later this month, Smith and a cast of amateur actors from Green Valley Christian Center will take center stage at the Mello Center to perform The Prince of Egypt, a musical based on the story of a Moses.
The church production involves a cast and crew of dozens. There will be 40 sets, and steam and lighting effects.
It's a massive effort for , which typically does Christmas and Easter plays as well as a standard fare of choir and orchestra performances. But the effort has drawn a lot of devotees, including a large group of youth who have chosen to focus on the positive during their summer breaks from school.
"There's so much joy in all of it," said Benita Serafini, who is part of the Ensemble. "What touches me the most is when God talks to Moses ... that just ministers to me: His love, His grace, His mercy."
The story line follows that of the 1998 award-winning The Prince of Egypt animated musical drama. Susan Magan, who plays Selonae, said she watched the movie 30 times to transcribe a first draft of the script. Since then, the director and cast members have rewritten scenes, adding dialogue and explanation in some parts of the story, and adapting the movie to the stage in other areas.
The story, for those who aren't familiar with Moses, comes from the Book of Exodus It follows Moses from birth to his destiny—leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. Moses parting the Red Sea may be the most widely-known part of the story, but the narrative goes much deeper.
Still, the Green Vally Christian Church production is not weighed down with sermons. The story line takes some liberties from the Bible, and performance should be accessible and enjoyable to the masses.
"It breaks it down a lot in layman's terms," said Justin Quiroz, who plays a soldier.
The challenge was to determine "how do we appeal to a modern audience?" according to Smith, who stars as Moses.
The show will be full of dancing and music, including a choir and full orchestra. Those aspects fall under the direction of Smith's mother, Deanna, who the music pastor at Green Valley Christian Center. (His father is the pastor at the church and his real-life sister stars as his character's sister in the play.)
The younger Smith said he is impressed by the professionalism of the show.
"I'm not going to compare it to a Broadway play," he said, trailing off. Craig Barragan, another solider in the production, interjected, "it's close."
The cast members said they've been moved by people's commitment to the project, which was devised in part to give youth an activity during the summer.
The youth involvement is touching, said Yolanda Burton, who works at the church. Not only is the production eating into their busy summer vacations, some are facing considerable challenges while dedicating time to the production: ill relatives or parents who have been out of work for months. One young woman recently lost her mother to cancer, according to Burton.
The production has experienced good fortune, like finding skilled people to take on roles or help with props and costumes. A particularly special moment happened this spring when someone donated two potted palm trees, the exact design element that was missing from a scene. Cast members and the director had been praying for that gift and felt moved by the result.
"His hands are all over it," Smith said of the show. "They're all in the choir, live orchestra, children."
And, in the end, the story does have a Biblical lesson:
It's about "how God delivered then and can deliver today. That's our heart, to minister to the people," Serafini said.
"We're trying to demonstrate that following God's commands doesn't constrict you, it liberates you," Smith explained.
The play will be performed at the Mello Center from July 26-29.