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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Dec 15, 2023



AFTER ‘THE NATIVITY STORY’ in 2005, a Biblical drama that recounts the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ, we now have “Journey to Bethlehem”, a Broadway style musical that starts with the three kings Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar seeing the bright star that signals the birth of our savior.

They then start their journey to go to Bethlehem, which the prophecy says is the place where the King of kings will be born.

We then see Mary (Fiona Palomo) being told by her parents that they have bethrothed her to a man named Joseph (Milo Mannheim.) 

She tries to protest as she doesn’t even know him and she wants to be a teacher who’ll later marry for love. 

Mary has two sisters, Deborah and Rebekah and together they sing to her the peppy original song “Mary’s Getting Married”. 

We then meet King Herod of Judea (played by Antonio Banderas who gleefully chews the scenery) and he also sings an original song, “Good to be King”. 

The film is the directorial debut of Adam Anders, a songwriter who did songs for boybands like Backstreet Boys and the Jonas Brothers and also for “Glee” and “Rock of Ages”. 

With his lyricist wife Nikki Anders, they manage to come up with catchy, charming songs that imagine the mind set of Mary, Joseph, Herod and his son Antipater. 

Mary and Joseph get to sing a heartfelt duet after their bethrothal, “Can We Make This Work”.

But soon, the Angel Gabriel (rapper Lecrae) visits Mary while she is sleeping for the Anunciation scene, telling her that she will be conceiving to bear Jesus. She tells Joseph about this but he cannot accept it.

Mary then leaves and visits her cousin Elizabeth (mother of St. John the Baptist) in Hebron. 

Missing here is the Magnificat where Elizabeth tells Mary that the baby in her womb leapt with joy upon Mary’s arrival. 

Mary also doesn’t get to deliver her famous line: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” which is recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke.

The Angel Gabriel then appears to Joseph to tell her Mary is chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus.

He then follows Mary and they get officially get married with Zecariah, the father of St. John, officiating. 

They then get to sing a fetching love ditty that can very well be used as a sweet standard song in wedding ceremonies, “We Become We”, with fireflies fluttering around them. 

Herod then asks the implementation of the census ordered by Rome. Joseph is originally from Bethlehem so he has no choice but to leave Nazareth with the very pregnant Mary.

We see them traveling through the desert until they reach Bethlehem for the familiar “panunuluyan” scene where Joseph knocks on the doors of various houses but no one would want to receive them. 

He then sees a barn where he takes Mary and where Baby Jesus is born.

An inspiring scene shows the Angel Gabriel leading a heavenly host of angels as they sing to the Baby Jesus, using the classic “Silent Night” as the initial song. 

It is magnificently mounted, with the shepherds and three kings arriving, to also pay their respect to Baby Jesus.

It can surely give true believers in the Christian faith some goose pimples. 

The final song “Brand New Life” with its refrain asking us to “Celebrate” will make you really feel Christmassy.

As a whole, this is an enjoyable musical about the birth of our Lord and Savior with enjoyable songs, even if they have taken some dramatic license along the way. 

Actually, it’s a risky undertaking to turn the greatest story ever told into a musical with liberal touches of comedy, because it might get too irreverent at some point and bashers will call it blasphemous. 

But in all fairness to the makers of “Journey to Bethlehem”, they know how to keep their boundaries so they won’t cross the line and offend the faithful, even with the hilarious wisecracks of the three kings (they even joke about their gifts, specially myrrh) and King Herod.

The lead cast is very appealing, with Fiona Palomo as Mary and Milo Mannheim (who was just in the slasher film “Thanksgiving”) as Joseph both having charming, wholesome screen presence and good singing voices in their Broadwayish production numbers. 

The choreography is also charming, specially in that scene where the guards suddenly dance in unison, Tiktok style. 

The film will be a perfect Christmas treat for the whole family, what with the delightful presence of Mary’s trusted donkey named Fig.

Aside from the scene-stealing Antonio Banderas, Joel Smallbone as his devoted son Antipater, who eventually sides with Mary and Joseph, also gets to sing his own snappy song number, “In My Blood”, with some smoldering intensity and pipes fit for Broadway.