Classic Tale Gets New Life on Stage

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

pilgrims progress illustrationThe seen and unseen combine in “Pilgrim The Musical” It's a side-by-side view of the physical and the spiritual that highlights "Pilgrim the Musical."

"It all plays out on the stage," said Rich Garnaat, director of the local production. "The audience gets to see the spiritual world right alongside the action among the physical characters, and it reveals some beautiful spiritual truths."

The 17th Century John Bunyan novel "Pilgrim's Progress" is one of the more enduring of allegorical depictions of the believer's life. The main character, Christian, is on a journey to the Celestial City (Heaven). Along the way he meets characters (Pliable, Faithful, Obstinate) and must travel through places (such as Wicket Gate and Valley of the Shadow) whose names have obvious metaphorical meanings.

This stage musical version, adapted by Garnaat, includes characters in the unseen spiritual realm throughout the script.

"The gospel (message) will definitely be presented in a powerful and creative way," said Garnaat, 41.

The production, with a cast of around 50 supported by orchestral ensemble, is staged Nov. 8 through 16 at Rush Creek Bible Church in Byron Center (details below).


"Pilgrim the Musical" is the major debut effort of the new Arise Collective Theatre (ACT). Formed by Garnaat and his adult daughter Grace (who is co-directing this production), the organization's aim is to create, produce, and perform high quality musical theatre which positively impacts the audience and member's lives for the Kingdom of God.


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The new non-profit is underwriting this production, making it a free admission event although donations are accepted.

"Pilgrim" has a family look thanks to the Gernaats. Rich and four of his children (including Grace) are in the cast. "Our whole family is part of the musical theater realm," said the director, who lives in the Alto/Caledonia area. Rich himself portrays the King, who surreptitiously accompanies Christian on his journey. The lead role is filled by Adam Bradt, who has extensive experience in area mainstage musicals. Many of the cast members have been or are a part of Master Arts Theatre, another West Michigan faith-inspired theatre group.

The orchestra is directed by Bea Sloothaak.

There may well be a renewed curiosity in the classic John Bunyan story. An animated theatrical film, "The Pilgrim's Progress" was released earlier this year. "I do think it'll spark some additional interest. I've noted several churches which have hosted screenings," Garnaat said of the musical film for which Christian singer-songwriter Kristyn Getty provides one of the voices.

It's noteworthy that the centuries old story has never been out of print and continues to provide nuggets of sometimes-hidden faith connections among its pages.


Gernaat is a Caledonia area native, appearing in numerous stage musicals throughout high school and at Cornerstone University. For four years he directed the Caledonia High School Players. He continues to find outlets for his passion for stage musicals and his faith, which helped lead to the formation of ACT. (They are already planning to present a musical next spring, collaborating with another group to stage the faith-based presentation "The Story").

Two of the more dramatic moments in "Pilgrim" involve conflict: when Christian does battle with the evil Apollyon, and when Faithful is martyred in the town of Vanity Fair. "It's still family-friendly and artistically done. But those are emotionally intense scenes," he noted.

Garnaat was involved in staging a version of this story several years ago at Lifestream Church in Allendale. "The amount of testimony/feedback we received about lives being changed was unbelievable, and that's part of what this is all about," he said of the organization's pursuit. "We're doing it to get the truth of God's word out there."

"Pilgrim the Musical" a stage musical based on the John Bunyan novel "Pilgrim's Progess"
Directed by Rich Garnaat and Grace Garnaat
Nov. 8-10 and 14-16 at Rush Creek Bible Church, 2334 76th St SW, Byron Center
All performances at7pm
Seats are general admission, no advance tickets necessary. Free admission at the door, donations will be accepted. For more information visit

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Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Terry is journalist who writes for newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites. His most frequented “beat” is arts and entertainment. He is married with two children and lives in Grand Rapids.

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