Half-Size Hero

by Stephen O'Rear

Everybody knows the story of Samson. He single-handedly fought a lion and defeated thousands of soldiers. Samson was so amazing that it’s easy to forget that God’s strongest hero was once a child.

Reagan M. plays “Little Samson” in the brand-new Bible musical at Sight & Sound Theatres in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The $5 million production features live animals, massive special effects and more than 50 professional actors.

But it all starts with a 10-year-old boy, alone on stage.

“I climb up a tree and talk to my dad,” Reagan says. “That’s a really fun part.”

Sight + Sound's Samson

"Samson" opens with a powerful father-son moment.

In the show, Little Samson is teased about his long hair. His father, Manoah, reminds him that God set Samson apart for a special purpose. Samson’s hair is part of a promise to serve God faithfully.

The father-son relationship is woven throughout the story,” explains Michael Niederer, who plays adult Samson. “Manoah is a spiritual leader to his son. They set up a very important picture at the beginning of the show.”

Reagan also plays a prison boy in Act Two. He encourages Samson, now blind and disgraced, and leads the hero to the spot where he can destroy the Philistine temple.

“I think it’s a cool story,” Reagan says.

Reagan performs for crowds of 2,000 people, but he rarely gets stage fright... anymore.

“I’ve been in four other shows,” he says, including “Joseph” and “Moses.”

Performing night after night takes a lot of energy. Reagan has a pre-show routine to get his blood flowing. “I usually just do a little bit of exercise, some high knees, to get pumped,” he says.

Sight + Sound's Samson

Reagan and Michael

Family Show
“Samson” packs action and romance into a family-friendly show. That’s important to Reagan’s family, who’ve been acting and producing for four generations.

Forty years ago, Reagan’s great-grandparents built a theater in Lancaster County. With hard work and prayer, the former dairy farmers produced original plays and musicals that brought the Bible to life.

“My mom, my dad, mostly my whole family works here,” Reagan says. “My sister’s doing ‘Samson,’ and my brother loves Sight & Sound, so I’m pretty sure he’ll do it when he’s older.”

Even with his family connections, Reagan still has to audition. “We got the lines, and my mom played Manoah and I was Little Samson,” he remembers. “We practiced back and forth until I got it down.”

Of course, there are a few advantages to having your own theater. “Sometimes we ride scooters on the stage, so that’s fun. It’s a big theater.”

Sight + Sound's Samson

Reagan's family at the red-carpet premiere of "Samson"

God in the Spotlight
At the end of the show, none of the actors take a bow—not even Samson. They sing one last song about God’s grace, then disappear.

“We don’t want people to glorify themselves,” explains Sight & Sound president Josh Enck. “We want to glorify Him.”

For Reagan, humility means taking turns with two other boys who also play the part of “Little Samson” and the prison boy. The musical performs 11 shows per week, which are too many working hours for a student.

On opening night, there was a big party at Sight & Sound. Reporters took pictures. The audience buzzed with excitement. But Reagan was not on stage that evening. It wasn’t his turn. He sat quietly in the front row, all dressed up, cheering for his castmates.

That’s what real heroes do.

Sight + Sound's Samson

Samson literally brings down the house.

Dramatic Demolition
Thirty-foot stone pillars topple. Others crumble to dust. Dozens of actors run carefully choreographed routes as objects fall from the ceiling. And since the stage extends 80 feet on either side of the audience, they’re right in the middle of the action!

When Sight & Sound chose to develop “Samson” for live theater, the question was: How do you capture the excitement and danger of a giant building collapsing, while keeping the actors—and audience—safe?

“We really had to bring the walls down for that scene,” says art director Jay Petersheim. “It’s very immersive.”

As the last pillar falls, the audience erupts into cheers. But the play isn’t over yet. The crew has mere seconds to clear away the rubble and reset the stage.

A big musical like “Samson” requires a whole team working behind the scenes: animal trainers, wig stylists, carpenters, painters, composers and much more. Although they don’t act or sing, they’re just as important to the show’s success.

“As a kid, the thing that stuck with me most was the illustrations in my Bible.” Jay says. The visuals made the stories more powerful, more complete. “That’s exactly what we do for children and families, bringing those stories alive in a new and thoughtful way.”

“Samson” runs through December 31 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. “Moses” plays at Sight & Sound’s other theater in Branson, Missouri. For ticket information, click here.

Copyright © 2016 by Focus on the Family. Photos © Sight & Sound Theatres.