GLEN ROSE — The Promise in Glen Rose, a music-filled biblical spectacular, opens its 25th anniversary season Friday under the threat that this could be its last run at the Texas Amphitheater.Somervell County commissioners are considering closing the gates of the hilltop amphitheater this fall unless someone comes forward with a plan to offset expenses at the venue.County Judge Mike Ford said commissioners are looking at every means of cutting their budget because of a giant dive in taxable values. “We love The Promise. We just don’t know whether we can afford to keep it open,” he said. “We lost $380 million in taxable value in one year, mainly because of the devaluation of the Comanche Peak nuclear plant. That’s a problem for the second-smallest county in Texas.”Commissioners will meet Monday to consider the county budget and tax rate for fiscal 2014. Ford said the county spends more than $200,000 a year on the amphitheater for upkeep and utilities, while The Promise brings in about $30,000 annually in revenue.Backers of The Promise are urging individuals and groups to show their support by attending in large numbers and also by making contributions.“It’s a highly entertaining pageant on the life of Jesus with camels and other livestock. Children are just mesmerized,” said Philip Hobson of Weatherford, a rancher and businessman who is one of the original Promise board members. “My hope is that we can work out a deal where we don’t close and do away with The Promise.”Hobson said the Texas Amphitheater, built in 1989 at a cost of $8.5 million, is a wonderful setting for the performance. One of the announcers, he said, used to point up at the star-spangled sky and tell the crowd, “Compliments of our sponsor.”‘It’s an institution’Show director Travis Tyre of Arlington, a published playwright, Shakespearean actor and author of drama books who portrayed Satan in early productions, said he was stunned by the news that commissioners were considering closing the amphitheater.“It’s an institution,” he said. “People from all over the country and all over the world know about The Promise,” he said. “It’s one of the things that Glen Rose is known for. Hotels are booked and restaurants are filled during the season.”Tyre played the role of Satan in historic performances of The Promise in Moscow’s Kremlin in 1993 and 1994.“It was 18 months after the fall of the Soviet Union, and we stayed there for month. We drew 4,000 to 5,000 people,” Tyre said. “It would be tragic to see an institution that has changed the lives of so many people go away because of money.”Adam Richards of Weatherford, who plays Jesus in the current production, has been a part of the play since he was a child. “ The Promise, to me, is much more that something that just happens,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been a part of for 18 years.”One of his high moments while portraying Jesus was being baptized by his father, Dean Richards, a Weatherford resident who recently played the role of John the Baptist.Adam Richards is also part of a touring company that during the off-season of The Promise presents the show in other parts of the U.S. and in other countries. It goes by a different name, His Life and was done before around 5,000 people in July in Malaysia, a Muslim-dominated nation. Another company did The Promise in Branson, Mo., in the late 1990s.“ The Promise won’t die even if the commissioners close the amphitheater,” Richards said. “It will be presented in some form.”‘Restaurants fill up’Hobson said The Promise got its start in 1983, when its board members put in $10,000 each to finance a pageant. The impetus grew out of a men’s Bible study that wanted to create a pageant.A writer with Word Publishing in Waco, Jan Dargatz, wrote the script.“It was pretty revolutionary at the time,” Tyre said. “It was different with a smiling, happy, approachable Jesus.”Back then most were putting on passion plays about the last days of Jesus’ life. The Promise tells his whole story.Ford said a central problem in keeping the Texas Amphitheater solvent is that The Promise has only a two-month run.“It usually lies idle for the rest of the year. What we are hoping is that someone will come in that will keep The Promise and make better use of the facility throughout the year,” Ford said.Dr. Ron Corley of Lufkin, one of the original board members, contends that The Promise is a good investment, yielding high returns for Glen Rose and the county.“People come to see it and to shop and stay in the county,” Corley said. “`Three motels have been built since our show started, and I think The Promise is one of the reasons they were built. Restaurants fill up.”Optimistic on its futureHobson’s wife, Linda, praised the county for past support of The Promise.“There might not have been a Promise if the county hadn’t stepped in,” she said. “We struggled for five years to find a place for it. At that time the county had a surplus of funds because of the nuclear plant. They presented the idea of having it in the amphitheater.”The show’s organization is formulating a proposal that will be presented to commissioners near the end of the show’s season, Hobson said. It will be aimed at alleviating some of the expense incurred by the county. Also, his group is exploring the idea of another biblical show that would focus on events in the Old Testament.What if the commissioners do decide to close the amphitheater?“I haven’t even admitted that possibility to myself,” Hobson said. “I‘m very optimistic because the people want it. The commissioners are good people. They don‘t want to lose The Promise. I think they will be very receptive to anything we can do that helps cure their financial problems.”
If you go
7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, Aug. 30-Oct. 26, Texas Amphitheater, 5000 Texas Drive, Glen Rose.
Tickets: $25-$40. 254-897-3926 or thepromiseglenrose.com. Special prices for military, students, churches and other groups. Free for clergy and guest.
How to help
Donations can be sent to The Promise in Glen Rose, 122 E. Church St., Weatherford, Texas, 76086.