The idea that had been kicking around in the Rev. Cheryl Goodman-Morris’ head for more than 20 years is finally out — and on stage.
The musical tells the story of Puah and Shiphrah, two midwives who defied Pharoah’s order to kill Hebrew baby boys. Goodman-Morris became intrigued by this tale of “civil disobedience” and female strength when she was pregnant with her daughter and was ordered to go on bed rest.
The musical has its roots in a sermon written by Goodman-Morris. The dramatic first-person sermon told the story from Puah’s perspective. The element of storytelling gave the scripture a powerful impact, Goodman-Morris said.
“It can touch people at a level that maybe you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” she said.
Goodman-Morris thought the story could be developed into a full-length musical, but she had never written one before and knew she probably wouldn’t unless she had a deadline.
In 2006, that deadline came.
After the last Gathering, Goodman-Morris was approached by a friend on the planning committee of the meeting who asked if she’d be interested in doing some drama for this year’s Gathering. When she agreed, Goodman-Morris saw the chance to bring her idea for a musical to life.
Goodman-Morris began writing the script for Puah’s Midwife Crisis and worked with musician Karen C. Russell in writing music and lyrics. A news release describes the music as ranging from “she-bop, blues, and tango, to dramatic recitative and hauntingly lyrical.”
That variety is also seen in the story itself. Exodus 1 is not a very long chapter and doesn’t include many people; Goodman-Morris said she had a good time imagining additional characters and giving them life.
“I got so interested in these characters and this story,” she said. “It’s really important to have a powerful and compelling story, but it also needs to be balanced with humor.”
The musical premiered to sold-out crowds at the Portola Valley (Calif.) Theatre Conservatory in March. The conservatory, directed by Goodman-Morris, is a community-based theater program housed at Valley Presbyterian Church, where Goodman-Morris is minster of Worship, Education and Arts.
The feedback from those shows was very positive, Goodman-Morris said.
“People were intrigued by the idea of Shiphrah and Puah. There is a lot of humor, and it’s a lot of surprising humor,” she said. “People seemed very euphoric after the show.”
She hopes those at the Gathering will enjoy the musical and the story of empowered women with an unwavering faith in God.
“Because (Shiphrah and Puah) stay faithful to God, they bring life to everyone around them,” she said. “I hope that (Presbyterian Women) will see a story that’s life-affirming, that’s filled with joy, that’s full of trust in God.”
The strength and bravery of Shiphrah and Puah are inspiring, and remind Goodman-Morris of many members of Presbyterian Women. She’s been going to the Gathering since the 1980s, and has long looked up to many of the older women she’s met.
“They have this passion for justice and deep faith and love for God and others,” she said. “In my mind, they are the modern-day Shiphrahs and Puahs.”
“Puah’s Midwife Crisis” will play at Actors Theatre of Louisville July 12-14 at 3 p.m. Admission is free, but passes are required for admittance. Donations will be accepted, with all proceeds after expenses going to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. To learn more about the musical and to request passes, click here.
Editor’s note: Presbyterian News Service will provide spot coverage of the Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women. For full coverage, visit the PW Gathering Web site. — Jerry L. Van Marter