Starting this spring, Sight & Sound Theatres will give people across the country a new choice.
They can travel to Strasburg to watch its production of “Jonah.”
Or they can travel to a nearby movie theater.
But the more convenient option will be offered only once — on Tuesday, May 2.
Sight & Sound last week disclosed details of its nationwide movie-theater debut, intended to put its work in front of a broader audience.
The company had announced in December that it would put a movie version of one of its stage productions into about 600 theaters nationwide for just one showing, but offered no specifics.
“Sight & Sound is here to engage the hearts and minds of our audiences with stories from the Bible,” said Josh Enck, executive producer of the show and chief creative officer of Sight & Sound.
“There’s tremendous demand for these shows, but not everyone can come to our theaters. So this ‘overflow’ onto movie screens is a great way to help more people have a Sight & Sound Theatres experience,” said Enck, in a prepared statement.
In Lancaster County, the only place to see the movie version of “Jonah” will be Penn Cinema, 541 Airport Road, Lititz. Tickets to the 7 p.m. showing are $12.50.
The G-rated film, running one hour and 50 minutes, is titled "Jonah: On Stage!" It also will be shown in Harrisburg and Lebanon.
Some 581 movie theaters have committed to showing the movie so far. The roster is expected to reach 600 — and possibly more — by May 2.
Sight & Sound retained Fathom Events, a Denver-based firm that specializes in placing exclusive events into movie theaters, to line up the network of cinemas.
The stage version of “Jonah” debuted at Sight & Sound’s Strasburg location in 2012. Next it appeared on Sight & Sound’s stage in Branson, Missouri, for the 2014-2015 season.
It will return to the Strasburg stage this year, from March 11 through Oct. 14.
Dean Sell, Sight & Sound’s brand director, said the movie was made from tapes of four Strasburg performances during that 2012 run. The movie version is almost the entire stage show, except for four to six minutes.
Why tape the show four times?
From performance to performance, Sight & Sound tweaks the placement of the eight cameras used in the taping process, to get the best possible result, explained Sell.
“Jonah” is an epic production, as Sight & Sound shows are.
The show has a cast of more than 50 actors, 550 costumes, nearly three dozen live animals, more than 70 set pieces (including a 30,000-pound boat) and a 40-foot whale.
All of the music in the production is original. Sight & Sound hired the Prague Symphony Orchestra to perform the music, an orchestra that Sight & Sound regularly uses because the orchestra has ties to Sight & Sound’s composers.
“Jonah” is the story of a stubborn Old Testament prophet by that name. God tells Jonah to go to the wicked city of Nineveh, but Jonah tries to flee instead, getting on a boat to travel to a distant city.
While at sea, a terrible storm pounds the boat. Jonah tells the crew to throw him overboard, to calm the waters. But a huge fish swallows Jonah, saving him from drowning and putting him on land.
God again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. This time, Jonah goes there and preaches, prompting the people to repent and renounce their evil ways. God sees this and spares the city from destruction.
Sight & Sound had lots of options for movie-theater material besides “Jonah.”
It also has brought the stories of Moses, Joseph, Daniel, Noah, Ruth and most recently Samson to the stage.
“We love all of these stories. They are near and dear to our hearts. There was a lot of conversation about what would be the best one. We felt that any one of the shows would work, but there’s something special about ‘Jonah,’” said Sell.
The production is “colorful,” “vibrant” and “fun” for a family, he continued. There also is “synergy” from the production returning to the Strasburg stage this year.
Sight & Sound’s interest in movie theaters comes as it filled 85 percent of its available seats in Strasburg and Branson last year. That enabled Sight & Sound to sell a record 1.4 million tickets in 2016.
That volume of ticket sales supports 650 jobs — 425 in Strasburg and 225 in Branson.
But the 41-year-old business realizes that the number of ticket sales can’t rise indefinitely; there are only so many seats to fill. That’s why it’s exploring the use of movie theaters to grow its audience.
A comparison of the seating capacity of each approach illustrates the appeal of the movie circuit.
Six hundred movie theaters have a seating capacity of about 132,000. On Sight & Sound’s busiest day, a Saturday, it has 10,000 seats available (generated by three shows in Strasburg and two in Branson).
Might Sight & Sound take another one of its stage productions to the movie theaters in the future?
Sell said Sight & Sound is “actively” but “cautiously” discussing that possibility.