New Castle News

March 5, 2014

Perennial passion: Union Township man marks 20th anniversary of his Easter musical drama

Dan Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — For two decades, Bob Summers has helped ignite the flames of Lenten spirit around the Pittsburgh Diocese.

Now the Union Township resident is hoping to add fuel to the fire.

Summers, a  pastoral associate at St. Francis Cabrini Parish in Center Township, Beaver County, and a youth consultant for Catholic Youth Ministry Services, is the author of the passion play “Make Us Believers.” This year marks the 20th anniversary of its first performances, and it is scheduled to be presented at seven diocesan churches, as well as in Erie and Aurora, Ohio.

However, Summers also is releasing a new CD featuring the music from “Make Us Believers,” which will be available on iTunes and at bookstores around the area and the country.

Summers said that he’s been writing music since he was about 20 years old, and even “recorded a couple of singers with the back-up singers for Dionne Warwick and Isaac Hayes back in the day.”

“Shortly after that,” he went on, “I had a deeply religious experience, a change in my life, and I literally threw out all those contemporary songs and started writing contemporary Christian songs. I promised the Lord that I would write for him.”

Eventually, Summers met Paul Tate and the church they both attended, St. Benedict in Atlanta. Tate,  a professional musician still living in Georgia who has released a dozen recordings and published more 100 original songs, noticed Summers’ passion for working with youth and made him an offer.

“He said to me, ‘Bob, if you ever wanted to do anything like ‘Godspell’ or ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ or whatever with the teenagers, let me know,’ ” Summers recalled. “ And I said, ‘You know what, Paul? I am writing this new musical called ‘Make Us Believers.’ I don’t have it finished yet, but I’ll get it finished.’ And I did.”

Performances started out small, Summers said, with Tate accompanying on piano, joined by a couple of other musicians. In 1996, he and Tate collaborated on their first CD of “Make Us Believers” music, and it sold 1,000 copies in two years.

“But we outgrew it,” Summers said. “I wrote more songs to (the passion play) as the years went on.  But I got busy with my family and youth ministry and working in the church and I just kept putting it on the back burner. I kept telling my wife, ‘We’ve just got to get this new CD before I get too old and I don’t have my voice.’

“So finally, I made up my mind to do it after the performances last year because the response was so great.”

Summers flew Tate up from Atlanta, and the CD was recorded at a studio in Beaver County. “I’ve been going three or four days a week since May just putting finishing touches on this,” he said.

Despite his references to “Godspell” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” – 1970s shows featuring music aimed at a younger crowd – Summers says “Make Us Believers” is for all ages.

“It’s pretty much across the board,” he said. “I have parents of younger kids who come up to me who say ‘I really like your CD, but I’m going to break it because my kid won’t stop playing it.’

“I didn’t rock it out. This is more orchestra stuff, more ‘Les Miserables’ kind of stuff than it is rock. It is upbeat, but it’s pretty cool.”

For the 20th anniversary performances of “Make Us Believers,” Summers expanded auditions – generally held within a parish hosting the play – to anyone in the Pittsburgh Diocese.

“Right now, I have three casts, and what I’m trying to do is to open it up,” he said. “We brought the CD up to another level, so what we want to do now is start raising the performance levels up to the CD.”

“Make Us Believers” isn’t being performed in Lawrence County this year, but Summers – who has lived in Union Township since 2001 – hopes to change that.

“In the early years, in the late 1990s when I first moved back here from Atlanta, we did it at St. James in New Bedford, and we did it at St. Vitus and St. Camillus,” he recalled. “It is kind of overdue to come back. That would be really cool to bring it back to Lawrence County. I would love that.”

(Email: d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com)