Chaplain Andy Krey had a dream.
He wanted to create a musical about the Last Supper that would inspire and uplift people of all faiths. Not only did he succeed, Krey convinced professional theater people in New York City to help.
This year, "The Last Supper" is coming to Savannah, presented by the Maritime Ministry Players, all affiliated with nonprofit organization The Maritime Bethel at Savannah, where Krey is executive director.
The musical is the story of Leonardo da Vinci's creation of his famous painting, "The Last Supper." It features music and vocal arrangements by Gary William Friedman and book and lyrics by Thomas Mitz.
"We have had a great deal of success with this production in New York, rural Georgia and other parts of the USA and are delighted to be partnering with the Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church to bring this wonderful production to Savannah," Krey says.
The Maritime Bethel offers advocacy and spiritual, physical and emotional support for seamen who come to the Port of Savannah, even though it is not affiliated to any one church or denomination.
"We're going on faith and putting our money behind it, hoping tickets will sell," Krey says. "This year, we're doing it at Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church because they are so theater connected.
"Last year, we presented it at Ebenezer retreat, and the year before that at the Methodist Church in Rincon, where we had to build everything," he says. "This will be a lot easier because the facilities and the resources are so much better."
The production features powerful music.
"The music has always touched the singers and instrumentalists in a very real way," Krey says. "We have a few new singers this year who haven't seen the play but already have an emotional connection with the music and lyrics."
There are 18 in the cast, portraying characters as diverse as Jesus and the 12 disciples, Mary and Martha and Leonardo da Vinci.
"Leonardo is the main character, so the whole musical revolves around him getting around painter's block while he's creating a painting," Krey says. "There is an angel, one of Leonardo's models who was a very devout Christian, and during prayer, each one of the disciples appear to him in a vision.
"That's how Leonardo decides what color the robes will be, what the body language will be," Krey says. "The moment where Jesus says, 'One of you will betray me,' is what is captured in the painting."
"The Last Supper" has been presented annually for 15 years.
"I've been doing this since 1999, mostly in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island," Krey says. "It's always a challenge.
"You have to get musicians and music directors, you have to get directors and a publicist. You have to start a year in advance.
"You can't always build on a cast or a musical choir," he says. "It's amazing how many people move around."
The current production was no exception.
"It took months and months for us to get permission to be at Asbury," Krey says. "You can't put all your eggs in one basket.
"Just raising the initial funds is a big project," he says. "It's such a spiritual journey - everything involved makes it all worthwhile."
In previous years, people have attended the first of six shows and come back for every following show.
"They tell their friends they have to see it; that it is very different," Krey says.
In addition to actors, there are six musicians.
"We have a keyboard, percussion, a string bass, a flutist and trumpet and trombone," Krey says. "We had the music arranged for all the different instruments."
The show is a fundraiser for four charities: Habitat for Humanity, the Wesley Community Centers, Mission on the Move and Maritime Bethel.
"Maritime Bethel is one of 539 Bethels in major port cities around the world," Krey says.
"Bethel is a Hebrew word that stands for 'House of God,'" he says. "Our flag has the dove of peace and navigation, because it is only when there is peace in the world that shipping and commerce can happen on the great waters."
From its base in Garden City, Maritime Bethel has been helping merchant mariners for years.
"We have four international phone lines," Krey says.
"We also have a money service so seafarers can send money back to their home country," he says. "We have wi-fi and two Mercedes Benz vans to transport seafarers from their ships to Bethel."
Volunteers help with the mission, including one who is fluent in Russian and other Slavic languages.
"We have a Filipino man who was a nursing home administrator in Chicago," Krey says. "He speaks Tagalog. About 55 percent of the seamen who come into the Savannah port are Filipino."
At any given time, 46,000 ships are at sea.
"About 90 percent of everything we use comes to us by ship," Krey says.
"At Maritime Bethel, one of our mottos is 'Ships carry more than cargo.' There are individuals onboard with basic human needs. Those are the people we care for."
Krey worked on ships himself.
"Right after college, I sailed as a mess man and cook on oil tankers," he says.
"I met the representatives of Bethels around the world. In Boston, where my home port was, the executive director and chaplain said if they sent me to seminary, would I work for them full time?
"I was recruited to work in the ministry part of it," Krey says. "In 2007, I was transferred from New York to Savannah."
Some months of the year, Savannah's port is actually bigger than New York's, Krey says.
"There are a lot of ships coming here instead of Houston," he says. "Savannah is easily the fourth largest port in North America.
"The port of New York and New Jersey and even New Haven are all fused together as one port," Krey says. "They have the Hudson and East River and Newark River, which is why New York has more tonnage."
Jonathan Thompson is directing the production in its first time in Savannah.
"I first heard about 'The Last Supper' in 2012, when it was performed in Effingham County," Thompson says. "I have been involved with the show for the last two years helping with the technical aspects such as lighting, sound and stage managing.
"This year, however, I wanted to direct the show," he says. "As an established director, I was drawn to the potential of this play."
The unusual characters intrigued Thompson.
"It is not every day that one gets to direct characters such as Leonardo Da Vinci and the apostles in just one show," Thompson says. "'The Last Supper' is about Da Vinci's inspiration for his masterpiece, what brought the apostles together at the last supper and how they react.
"It is a great play with some thought-provoking lines," he says. "Everyone should see it at least once."
Tom Mitz wrote both the books and lyrics of "The Last Supper."
"I suppose you would call me a Renaissance man," Mitz says. "I have always loved the arts - I was a musician in my 20s, so wrote lyrics then and was a playwright.
"I adore musicals the best, as it communicates the emotion of love better than any other medium," he says. "I have written for TV and the New York stage and am also an artist."
Mitz met Krey in a restaurant in New York in the 1990s.
"Andy has a way of inspiring people to help his causes, so he asked me to read his play of 'The Last Supper' and give my honest opinion," Mitz says.
"When I gave him my honest feedback - that it was entertaining but not dramatic enough to succeed - he somehow persuaded me to rewrite it for him. I had to get into the mind of Leonardo Da Vinci and used the device of monologues, as these are easier for actors, professional and amateur alike.
"The hardest part of acting is interaction with other actors," Mitz says. "We tried it out in New York and it was very successful."
Mitz will come to Savannah for the opening.
"I urge people to take an hour and a half out of their lives to experience 'The Last Supper,'" he says. "There is something about it which really works, and it involves the audience in the story."
The music and vocal arrangements were composed by Gary Friedman, whose 1970s musical "The Me That Nobody Knows," is currently being revived on Broadway.
"Initially, Tom Mitz contacted me about 'The Last Supper,'" Friedman says. "I have a busy career composing scores for Broadway, TV and festivals.
"I was also concerned that as a Jew, this musical enactment was about Christianity, but it is not," he says. "Christ was Jewish and is revered in our religion and it is about the Jewish Seder, the ritual meal which begins Passover, which is as Jewish as you can get.
"It is great that the last performance in Savannah this year takes place at Passover on April 15, and there is an optional meal before the performance," Friedman says. "Tom persuaded me to write the score and I am so glad I did."
Friedman's wife, Stevie Holland, took the role of the angel in the first production of "The Last Supper" in New York City.
"The devices of the choir acting as a type of Greek chorus and the intervention of the muse or angel to inspire Leonardo are both very dramatic," Friedman says. "When I began to write the score, the music just flowed and the collaboration with Tom and Andy was wonderful.
"Many shows are very difficult to work on, but we were somehow blessed to have the strength and insight to develop the music for 'The Last Supper.' It is a wonderful and exciting musical production with a clear beginning, middle and end, which celebrates love and the beauty of the earth.
"It combines spirituality with real humanity and the role of Jesus has a very different look, feel and sound to 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' which made him hip," Friedman says.
"I cannot say enough good things about Andy Krey, who was inspired to develop this vision for 'The Last Supper,'" Friedman says. "I believe that this show was meant to be."