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moving as ever
When actor Robert McGovern slowly walks down the aisles of Felician Colleges auditorium, he says, some audience members are so moved by his presence that they will do anything -- yell, grab, leap over others -- just to touch him.
Though the adulation is flattering, McGovern realizes the reaction is to the character he portrays, not him.
McGovern plays the title role in "The Jesus Story," a passion play that begins performances tonight at Felician College. A production by the Bible Baptist Church in Hasbrouck Heights, the free two-hour musical presents a non-denominational account of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
"I remember one year I passed this guy who wanted to shake my hand," said the tall, thin bearded McGoven, who has been performing the role of Jesus since 1989. "The man leaped at least four rows just to touch my hand. I couldnt believe it. It humbled me so much, I just wanted to leave."
McGovern said sometimes the audience gets so involved that it becomes part of the play. It happens during a scene when McGovern is pushed and kicked by guards.
"I remember one year, a guy who had just had open heart surgery was so affected by the scene that he got out of his seat and wanted to fight the guards," McGovern said. "Another time, an old lady tried to hit a guard after he knocked me to the ground."
The play began as a small narration performed by a handful of actors at Bible Baptist 11 years age. From those humble beginnings, the cast has grown to 120 people performing 12 scenes and 17 musical numbers.
When the church could no longer accommodate the growing audience, the production was moved to Felician College in 1997, where 9,000 people are expected to attend this years six shows.
"We were only able to fit 400 people at the church, and that filled immediately," said Bible Baptist Pastor Bill Hegedus. "One day I opened the door and there were rows of people standing in line and cars backed up for blocks. We actually had to turn people away.
"We have to turn people away at Felician, too. We usually open the doors about an hour ahead of time, and its filled."
One audience member was so affected by the play that she became part of the production.
Maribel Cutter first saw a performance eight years ago at the urging of a friend. After she saw Jesus nailed to the cross, she decided to become a born-again Christian and join the church. She is now a member of the cast.
"You can see people in the crowd crying, you can see the tears falling down," she said. "The play did the same thing for me. When I saw this, my life was transformed."
Experiences like this keep McGovern, who studies biblical counseling, coming back from Florida to participate. The former Hackensack resident moved in 1995 but returns to Bergen County every year to continue his portrayal of Jesus.
"This is a ministry," McGovern said. "Im here to deliver a message."
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