Musical - You've Got A Friend In Bethlehem

"You've Got A Friend In Bethlehem" is a children's Christmas musical I wrote for a cast of mainly elementary students. This is the second of three Christmas musicals I have written (the others are my life's major work, "Two Thousand Years Ago," and "Keep Christ In Christmas"). The musical "You've Got A Friend In Bethlehem" includes the title song plus "I Really Don't Like It Here," "Up And At 'Em," "Good Morning, Animals" and "We The Animals."

Side notes/background: In 2010 I had presented a portion of my musical "Two Thousand Years Ago" at Hope Church in Douglassville, PA (at the time I was directing the choir at Hope and also frequently sang my songs as special music in worship services). The casting of that musical was one of the most stressful things I have ever done. I had written "big" songs with soaring melodies and complex duets, and there was no one at the church to fill the three most critical roles (Mary and Joseph, and Mary's father). What I initially thought would be a relatively simple task (recruiting a few great singers from outside the church) turned out to be a huge, months-long headache and a monumental task. God taught me that my God-given gifts were in writing, not people-skills like recruiting! And don't try to do everything yourself! Hard lesson, but I learned it.

Was I exhausted, frustrated and burned-out? Yes.

OK, so that was 2010. For its children's Christmas program the following year, Hope's children's ministry had purchased the rights to perform a drama. I had previously written songs for Hope's Vacation Bible School, and now they asked me to write a song that could be used as an "add-on" finale for the 2011 children's Christmas program. So I wrote "We The Animals," a fun children's song that kids in barnyard animal costumes sang about being in the stable when Jesus was born. It was a real thrill for me to hear the kids singing my song!

In the months following the 2011 children's Christmas program, I decided that I was over being burned-out from doing "Two Thousand Years Ago" in 2010. I wanted to write the entire program for the children's 2012 Christmas program; I was sure I could do much better than what had been purchased in 2011. I came up with a revolutionary original idea for future musicals (at least I had never heard this method). The idea was to cast the musical first, and then write the script and music to suit the abilities of the singers who wanted to be in the program. That way I could leave the "recruiting" and other organizational duties to people who had been gifted by God with those abilities, and use my God-given gift of writing for the script and music.

Fast-forward now to 2012: the Jolivette family and their children Megan and Mason attended Hope Church with us. Megan Jolivette was a very talented high school student who had sung in several of her middle school and high school musicals (this was 2012 and I believe Megan was then in the 10th grade). And Megan occasionally sang and played the keyboards as special music in our worship services.

For several weeks in August and September 2012, we had sign-up sheets for kids who wanted to be in the Christmas program. Interestingly, both Megan and her younger brother Mason signed up. I was certain that Megan had signed up in error, because this was going to be a children's program and Megan was already in high school. But when we had our first cast and parents meeting, when kids were trying out for parts, and parents were signing up to make costumes and sets, etc, I was surprised to see Megan had also come. I thought, "What a nice big sister Megan is, to come offer support and encouragement for her little brother Mason." I thought Megan could not possibly be interested in actually being in the program; Megan was probably five or more years older than any of the kids at the cast meeting, and she had sung solos in many musicals and productions in middle and high school.

I spoke to Megan privately, and I told her that if she would be in the program, I would write a duet for her to sing with Mason. I expected a typical teenager's reaction, which would have been to ask me, "What are you, crazy? I'm in high school! Why in the world would I want to be in a program with a bunch of elementary school kids?" But Megan sweetly smiled and said "Sure, I'd love to!" Praise God! I was thrilled! So I rewrote the script I had drafted for a kids-only program, and I wrote a duet for Megan and Mason to sing together (the title song, "You've Got A Friend In Bethlehem"). What a blessing Megan was to work with!

Seems like only yesterday, but that was back in 2012! Megan has since graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 2019 and is now an Ensign in the Coast Guard!

Here are "pretty-good" videos of Act 1 and Act 2 of the December 23, 2012 production by the youth of the church I was a member of at that time, Hope Church in Douglassville, PA.

Ran Birkins, Songwriter

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