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Barry Cutler and the Crystal Cathedral

Barry Cutler was Marley's Ghost in the failed production of a Christmas Carol at the Kodak, but as Honest Abe, he's been wowing schoolkids across the country for 18 years.
Barry Cutler was Marley's Ghost in the failed production of a Christmas Carol at the Kodak, but as Honest Abe, he's been wowing schoolkids across the country for 18 years.
John Rabe

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UPDATE 11/18/2011: (AP) The Crystal Cathedral will sell its iconic, gleaming glass building to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. The move was approved Thursday by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge after a bidding war between the diocese and Orange County's Chapman University for the sprawling 40-acre property, and was opposed by many Crystal Cathedral congregants who fear it will be the end of their church. The diocese will pay $57.5 million to use the building in Garden Grove, made of 10,000 panes of glass, as a long-sought countywide cathedral.
The reputation of the Crystal Cathedral, in Garden Grove, has taken a big hit lately, after declaring bankruptcy last year, with fifty-million dollars of debt. The Diocese of Orange ($57.5 million) and Chapman University ($51.5 million) are in a bidding war for the 40-acre property. How far the Crystal Cathedral has fallen since Robert Schuller founded the ministry more than fifty years ago! Actor and Off-Ramp commentator Barry Cutler remembers the happier years.

Every year, the Crystal Cathedral put on two shows, The Glory of Easter and The Glory of Christmas. These were huge expensive productions, and, when I was involved, they used Equity actors. I played the role of Judas in two productions of The Glory of Easter, which would have made God or even Cecil B. DeMille jealous, which a cast of more than 300, plus a dozen Equity actors and dozens of farm animals, birds, horses and large cats.

Most of the major roles -- the disciples and Pharisees and such -- were filled with Jews like me. The major exception to this was the role of Jesus, played by Miles, a blond and blue eyed goy. He later moved back East and became a carpenter.

My audition for Judas was odd. While a pretty important character, Judas actually had very little to say. After I read the few lines I had, one of the directors asked if I could lurk. "Excuse me" I said, not sure I'd heard correctly. "Would you lurk for us, please?" So, versatile talent that I am, I lurked about the audition room and won the role.
Much of the time, I felt as if I had run away and joined the circus. All those animals, fireworks (inside the Cathedral!), magic, a Sensaround earthquake, flying angels. At one of the early rehearsals, I was sitting in a pew while one of the techs worked with the flying angels. He was having some trouble with the mechanisms which flew the angels and, as I watched, one pretty, young angel slid lower and lower above me, nearly sitting on my face. Just thinking about an angel in that way while sitting in a Cathedral made me feel closer to the role of Judas.

At various times we had genuine Hollywood stars playing Pilate and Herod. While we other professional actors were very well paid for the time – $600 a week -- I was told the stars received about $60,000 a week. But Michael York, one of our Pilates, assured us that the money wasn't important to him. It was the message.

While it was a very professional production team, there were a few problems. Perhaps the greatest challenge to the actors was navigating the numerous steps and scurrying from one location to another, without slipping, sliding and sprawling in the abundance of holy ... dung. Once, when Herod appeared with a peacock on either side of his throne, the special effect flames sent one of the poor birds rising like the phoenix ... before descending in ashes.

Overall, it was great fun and a great success with the audiences, as well as very profitable. And the members of the church, many of whom played extras in the production, were wonderfully supportive and friendly. After each performance, most flocked around Miles/Jesus, for attention/healing, but one sweet woman always thanked me for taking on the burden of Judas … just before I went off to collect my silver/paycheck.

We did two shows each day, without curtain calls. Since, as Judas, I hanged myself about midway through each show, I would sit in my car in the parking lot and drink a beer as the first show wound down. Toward the end of each show, there was a spectacular effect in which Jesus rose to Heaven. Miles stood on a platform in front of two of the tall Cathedral windows. The windows opened to the night sky - and the parking lot where I sat - a laser beam shot up, smoke rose, and Jesus vanished … having been lowered beneath the stage while hidden by the smoke. I was always tempted to climb out of my car, mount the platform, and appear as Judas triumphant when the smoke cleared. But I preferred the silver.