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'One Bethlehem Night' opens Friday

Arnie Plowman as Joseph, left, and Erica Horyza as Mary perform during a musical version of the nativity story titled "One Bethlehem Night," which will be performed by members of the Assembly of God Church for the 44th annual Nights of Music Christmas program. The production opens Friday; tickets are free. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

The Willmar Assembly of God Church will present its 44th annual Nights of Music, "One Bethlehem Night," at seven performances beginning Friday at the church in Willmar.

This year's show is "the nativity story, a la the 'Fiddler on the Roof'," according to Nancy Murphy, director of the show and fine arts director at the church.

A cast of 16 people bring the Christmas story to life by focusing on the humanity of the people who witnessed Christ's birth. The cast includes Mary, the young expectant mother, and Joseph, her husband, who must go to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, along with the innkeeper and his wife, who have the chance to make a bundle of money, and the rabbi and his wife, who have awaited the promised one all of their lives.

The performances are at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Dec. 12, 13 and 14. There is a matinee performance at 3 p.m. Dec. 13. The musical performance also includes a 60-plus voice choir.

There are at least 200 people involved in the production of the event, from the actors to the technical crew members to the volunteers who park cars and serve pie and coffee, Murphy says.

"Our people rise to the occasion for this event," Murphy says. "We hope to reach out to people without a relationship with the Lord. If one person's life is changed, that's enough for us."

Even though between 5,000 and 6,000 people are expected to attend the seven-night performance, the performance is for an audience of one, she adds. "If it is pleasing to the Lord, we are happy."

The Nights of Music tradition started in the early 1960s at the Assemblies of God church. Choirs filled a "singing Christmas tree" until 1997, when a tornado took the garage where the tree staging was stored. That's when the annual event became a main stage musical each and every year.

Tickets are required for the event, but are free. They are available at the church at 3821 Abbott Drive in south Willmar, Northern Grounds, the Good News Bookstore, Walt's and North American State Bank. Pie, apple cider and coffee will be available after each evening performance in the church fellowship hall. The cost is $3.

Each year, the freewill offering collected at the event is given to a local need or charity. This year, the funds will go to the Salvation Army in Willmar. The Salvation Army was chosen this year, Murphy says, because the organization provides for the most basic needs of people, which is especially needed in challenging economic times. Last year, the offering was $20,975 given to the Kandiyohi County Emergency Needs Fund.