THE WAYFARER

The biggest draw of the Centenary was a specially commissioned extravaganza called The Wayfarer. For the entire run of The Centenary (excluding Sundays), The Wayfarer sold out nightly. On weekends, hundreds would have to be turned away.

The Wayfarer was a spectacle in every sense of the word. Presented in the new 8,000 seat Coliseum building, on a stage 110' x 75', The Wayfarer featured a cast of over 1,000 performers, a 76-piece orchestra, a choir of 1,200 singers, and sundry animals. Elaborate costumes, detailed sets, and the largest sky cyclorama in the world helped present scenes spanning 2,500 years and traveling from ancient Babylon to the battlefields of the Great War. Lighting and sound technicians used the very latest theater technology to tell the epic story.

The Wayfarer opened gloomily. Under smoke-darkened skies, as "Armageddon" plays and artillery fire rumbles in the distance, Allied forces retake a ruined Belgian town. Death and devastation are all around. Looking on the scene, The Wayfarer is confronted by Despair who tempts his soul:O faith is but for fools and hypocrites. Should any cherish fond delusions, let him but gaze on these scenes of woe! Oppressed with hopelessness, The Wayfarer cries out to the heavens: It cannot prove that vice shall stronger be than virtue.

In answer to The Wayfarer's prayer, an angel named Understanding arrives. Understanding promises to reveal God's plan for mankind and restore his faith. To this end, she takes The Wayfarer on a journey through history.

Understanding leads The Wayfarer back to Babylon to witness the deliverance of the Captive Israelites, then to The Nativity, the ministry and miracles of Christ, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection, the growth and spread of Christianity, and finally The Second Coming. Each scene is realized on a scale that would do Cecil B. DeMille proud. Despair tags along to tempt The Wayfarer but is always put in his place by Understanding.

In the end, as a shining New Jerusalem descends to earth and the choir thunders The Hallelujah Chorus, The Wayfarer sees it all, understands, and his faith is restored.

Centenary audiences couldn't get enough. Tickets sold out within minutes of the box office's opening. Fans arrived hours before the show and waited in long lines to be sure of a good place. Some saw it repeatedly like a 1910s Methodist Star Wars. Audiences were ecstatic. The most popular scene was The Nativity when the star blazed forth amid a choir of angels to shepherds keeping watch. Local critics enthused. The Ohio State Journal remarked: We feel as though we are in the midst of the biggest event of a lifetime...

The Wayfarer was such a success that it began a nationwide tour after The Centenary ended and by December 1919 had made its way to five weeks of sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York. Even the jaded New York critics were impresed with its scale and spectacle.

 

angel

Broadway and film actress Blanche Yurka as "Understanding" in The Wayfarer. Image Courtesy of the Columbus Metropolitan Library Digital Collection.

coliseum

The Coliseum where The Wayfarer was presented.

 

cast

The cast of The Wayfarer at the Centenary. From The Methodist Yearbook 1920.