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Days of Christmas past
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The First Baptist Church of Covington will present, "The Covington Christmas Musical" Dec. 15 at 2 p.m., Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. and Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Eastside High School Auditorium. The presentation features "I'll Be Home for Christmas," a musical about family and hope in the golden days of radio.

Big band music and a talented cast provide a compelling and entertaining story around the events of Dec. 7, 1941.

Dr. Bob Horner, interim pastor, will recognize the World War II veterans and their families who attend. There is no admission charge and the 452 seats will be "first come first serve" for three shows only.

"The response has been overwhelmingly positive," said minister of music, the Rev. Greg Steele.

Having produced the musical for years in Alabama, Steele said it was so popular that they eventually had to go to a ticket system.

Last Christmas, the church recorded an album, The Spirit of Christmas.

"This is the second year of doing something that they hadn't done before and it went really well," Steele said. "This year, we are trying to branch out and do more for the community. It's entertaining while it does have a Christmas and gospel message."

A collection of World War II flags, uniforms, pins and medals, such as the collection belonging to the late Ed Hunt, will be showcased nightly.

"If anyone has memorabilia to display, please give us a call," said Steele.

The setting for the drama is San Francisco. The scenes fluctuate between a brownstone apartment living room, a radio studio and various live broadcast locations in New York City between Thanksgiving and Pearl Harbor Day in 1941.

Steele refers to a part in the drama where the family is listening to the radio and hearing the news about the bombing.

"During that time, the audience will actually see five or six minutes of war department footage on the screen," she said.

To set the tempo, the band will be playing big band music. The radio plays a central part in tying everything together. The band provides the music that is supposedly coming through the radio.

"Each time the DJ comes on, you will actually see the DJ in the studio doing Maxwell House and Alka-Seltzer commercials," said Steele. "You may even see some shows with the lone ranger in the shadows."

Written and copyrighted in 1994 by Pilot Point Music, the one hour and 40 minute drama depicts a family who has a member who was oversees before Pearl Harbor. Intermingled with lots of comedy, the music, radio and cast guide you as the family is going through a difficult time.

"As a religious organization, we are going to focus in on how the family leaned on the Christ of Christmas and the hope he brings in any situation," said the pastor. "Hopefully everyone will have a wonderful time."

Most all of the cast has been responsible for their own costumes. Joining main character, Billy Boyd, are the Rev. Jason Wade, Tyler Boyd, Lindy Steele, Stephanie Cleveland, Joan Holder, Ron Barrow, Cody Caho and Donnie Coe.

The band members are Julie Thompson, piano; Pat Schmidt, synthesizers; Amy Gajownik and Greg Gajownik, trumpets; Scott Revo and Chris Bragg, trombones; Allen Fowler, tuba; Roger Wolfe, French horn; Scott Smith and Josh Hayward, alto sax; Travis Tingle and Reed Lucat, tenor sax; Joe Philpott, clarinet; Mary Leinweber, violin; Shawn Geiger, drums; and Matt Manning, percussion.

"They have to be competent musicians because the music is fairly demanding and we will have only one rehearsal with them on Friday night," said Steele.

Preparation began early in August with choir and drama rehearsals every week. While Steele conducted and produced the project, Becky Morgan headed up the drama.

"She has the gift of servanthood and leadership," Steele said.

Production staff include Becky Zimmerman, drama consultant; Pam Steele; project director; Wanda Reagan, project coordinator; Tom Gardner, and David Burk, sound; Ken Horstmann and Grady Steele, lighting; Greg Gajownik, concert master; Martha Boyd, props; and Billy Cates, staging.

The choir will present solos, duets, trios, and quartets, including some tunes sung by the Andrew Sisters.

"The music is all the 1940s big band style," said Steele. "It's a lot of fun for me because we don't ordinarily get to do that in church music," he added.

Choir members includes Jim Alexander, Ron Bartow, Kin Beckworth, Freda and Sidney Bobbitt, Billy and Martha Boyd, Bill and Connie Brantley; June Burk, Martin Burton, Charles and Nancy Cook, Suzanne Cotton, Doris Deadwyler, Dennis Thompson, Randy Eakins, John Emerson, Dennis Fordham, Ray Franz, Cathy Ginn, Bertie Ann and Bill Hardy, Joan Holder, Johanna Horstmann, Karen and Lonnie Hunter, Leigh Jay, Scott Knight, Rhonda Lowe, Helen McElreath, Becky Morgan, Ken Mosley, Jim Mulkey, Jean Mull, Mary Catherine Orr, Mildred Palmer, Greg Porter, Cheryl and Jimmy Robbins, Pat Schmidt, A.J. Spillers, Gary Steele, Pam Steele, Frances Stroud, Suzy Cunard, Pat Tate, Julie Thompson, Goodwin Tuck and Ann Williams.

The pastor talked about the church's faith as they depended on God to help them.

"It's so obvious and really easy to see him working in it," as Steele also acknowledged the excellent resources and talent within the church. "It's a big project for a church this size to tackle, and so far, they have done wonderfully."

Steele has served as minister of music at FBC for a year and half. Prior to coming to Covington, he worked as minister of music at the First Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala. Steele has an undergraduate degree in music education from Samford University and a master's degree in church music from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Steele lettered in four sports and confessed he didn't think about music as something he wanted to do until he was a senior in high school. "I was fortunate to have good churches to serve in and gained a lot of experience early on," he said.

Steele was the first person on either side of his family to go into college and the only one to go into music. "When I came home and asked my mother what I should play, she suggested the trumpet," he said. "It was a God thing because I had a double major in trumpet and voice at Samford. It was obvious that God's hand was on me," he added.

The pastor met Pam, his wife of 24 years, at her home church when he was working as an assistant minister of music. Their son, Grady is a sophomore at Auburn University and daughter, Lindy is a senior at Eastside.

Counting down the final week of the event, the cast and crew will work through three hours rehearsals each night checking lighting, dimensions and props now that they have access to the venue.

"We are just now getting to the fun part," said Steele. "There is so much you can't do until the last minute."

For more information, and for reserve seating for World War II veterans and families, call the First Baptist Church at (770) 786-9031.