Beyond the music and support features, a good story ultimately is what makes or breaks a musical. I believe that they developed a compelling story with interesting characters and witty interaction, although with occasionally awkward transition points in the dialogue. To be fair, it probably goes unnoticed by most children. And it probably would not bother most adults. Yet, it gives the play the feel of, well, a children’s play, rather than real dialogue between children and adults. The net effect is entertaining, but a bit awkward at certain points. It doesn’t detract from the timely message or the enjoyment of the play, but since this is supposed to be a critical review, it is worth mentioning for the sake of informing future product offerings.
I do have some minor concerns about the way in which the story is framed into a comprehensive set of interlinked metaphors which support the notion of an overarching metaphor. The ship on which they sail is the Friendship (Metaphor 1). They sail the seven seas on their voyage: The Sea of Acceptance (M. 2), the Sea of Communication (M. 3), the Sea of Humility (M. 4), the Sea of Sacrifice (M. 5), the Sea of Loyalty (M. 6), the Sea of Forgiveness (M. 7), and finally, the Sea of Love (M. 8). The Sea of Love leads to Harmony Harbor (M. 9), their end destination.
Of course, there are troubles along the way presented by the Current of Comparison (M. 10), the Rocks of Rivalry (M. 11), the Whirlpools of Selfishness (M. 12), the Bog of Bitterness (M. 13), and finally, the Island of Isolation (M. 14). Fourteen clearly delineated metaphors are set within the metanarrative of the overarching Voyage (M. 15) metaphor.
Even the characters chime in on the metaphorical action: There are Captain Merryweather (M. 16), Firstmate Good Will (M. 17), Arnold Benedict (M. 18), who longs for the jewels and possessions of the Duchess, a very wealthy and self-absorbed lady (M. 19), Gabagail the gossip(M. 20), and lastly, Herb Bitters (M. 21). I should add that Nat the Navigator is a character too, but I don’t see the metaphor in his name.
I love the creativity. I love the nuance, the interplay of choices and their consequences, and subsequent opportunities for redemption and forgiveness. All of these are timely, biblical and relevant. My concern is this: How many kids are being left behind in their comprehension simply because they developmentally are not ready to process the language of metaphor? I think my kids would love doing the play. I am not sure whether all of them would be able to understand fully the extent of the metaphorical language represented in this play. I may be wrong. I am not sure. But it does raise the question and is really the only point which gives me pause, especially since young children are concrete thinkers. They have not yet graduated into the realm of sophisticated abstract thought. I expect it would take a lot of explanation to help some of the children in my context to get the point of the place and character names. Not that this wouldn’t be a worthwhile exercise. Yet, it is something to consider as I evaluate its suitability for my church.
So in the final analysis, I am excited about Voyage of the Friendship. I think it is a terrific contribution to children’s musicals for churches. And I think each church will need to judge for itself whether the content is framed in a way that will provide their children the best possible learning experience, given their age characteristics and level of development. So then, I encourage you to evaluate the materials provided at the links above, especially the pdf download of the lyrics and script.