The Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs celebrates its 50th season this year.
“Featuring a cast of more than 150 actors and actresses, the play is performed amid a 550-foot historically accurate stage and brings to life the thrilling epic drama surrounding Christ’s last days on earth, including his death, resurrection and ascension,” according to a news release.
The Great Passion Play runs one hour and 45 minutes and includes an original musical score composed by Phil Perkins and performed by the world-renowned National Philharmonic Orchestra of London. This year’s performance also features horses, donkeys, a Pharaoh Hound, and dozens of birds as well as camels.
“It’s an unforgettable experience,” Kent Butler, operations director, said. “People can go to movies anywhere in the world and see special effects created through computers, but The Great Passion Play is a bigger than life story and set. It’s one of largest outdoor sets in the world. It draws people into the story in ways that traditional theater with moving prop pieces can’t. This strengthens the allusions of what it was like in biblical days.”
New this year is a 3,000-watt spotlight.
“This particular spot was used on Broadway. It has a 600-foot throw, so it’s designed for large arenas and stages like ours,” Butler said.
Also new this season is a biblical market place containing craftspeople making items throughout the day – sculptor, potter, carpenter, jewelry maker, painter, weaver.
“It’s right at the beginning of the Holy Land Tour so people really feel like they’re walking into that time period,” Butler said.
The Petting Zoo opened in September and will be open again this season. It has the friendliest llama that’s ever been born, sheep, goats, white Great Pyrenees dog, and chickens, Butler said.
Other new attractions include a special showing of the musical movie “God with Us: New Testament” in the Jerusalem Chapel, a bomb shelter similar to ones used in Israel today, and mountain bike trails.
“We’ve got five miles of mountain bike trails. People can also hike it,” Butler said. “They’ll be open every day of the year from dawn until an hour after sunset.” Within the 660 acres of property, the trail goes right by many of the areas of the Holy Land.
While on the grounds, visitors can also walk through Jerusalem’s Eastern Gate and journey through recreations of the Holy Land including the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.
See the Sacred Arts Museum with hundreds of pieces of rare works in 64 different forms and the Bible Museum with 6,000 Bibles (including an original 1611 King James Version of the Bible) and artifacts dating back to 2,000 B.C.
“Experience the popular free performances of David the Shepherd and the Parables of the Potter and new for 2018, the Sculptor. Eat the buffet dinner that is served on nights the play is performed,” according to the release.
“Two years ago, we celebrated the 50th year anniversary of the Christ of the Ozarks, and this year, we are excited to celebrate the 50th year anniversary of The Great Passion Play,” Executive Director Randall Christy said.
Dedicated in 1966, the Christ of the Ozarks memorial statue stands seven stories tall and is one of the most visited attractions in the Ozarks.
“Last year,” Christy said, “the New York Times named the Christ of the Ozarks the fourth most popular statue in the United States.”
The ranking was based on data provided by three sources — Travelport, a United Kingdom based travel technology and research firm, the National Park Service, and TripAdvisor — and placed the Lincoln Memorial in the number one spot, followed by Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, and the Christ of the Ozarks.
The Great Passion Play’s 2018 season runs from the first weekend of May through the last weekend of October.
Details: www.GreatPassionPlay.org or 800-882-7529.
— Jill Rohrbach is a travel writer with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.