Based on a play by John-Michael Tebelak, in New York City a band of players get together to perform and celebrate the life and teachings of Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew.
God speaks a prolog. In New York City pushing a cart across the Brooklyn Bridge is John the Baptist (David Haskell). Others are walking in crowded streets. Two women are bumped. Some individuals see John appear near them, and he blows a horn and sings, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” John is standing on a statue in a water fountain as three men and five women come and dance in the water. John sees Jesus (Victor Garber). John says he baptizes them in water, but the one coming after him will baptize them with the Holy Spirit. Jesus comes to John and asks to be washed up. Jesus sings, “Save the People.” Jesus in a Superman shirt and John pull his cart as they sing with the others who dance along with them. They run through a park and come to a fenced-off junkyard.
Jesus opens the gate, and they run in and look at the discarded things with interest. Jesus paints their faces with colors as he teaches about the law and why he came. He says they must be better than the Pharisees and the doctors of the law to enter the kingdom of heaven. They improve as they dance around an old car. They play out the story of the Pharisee and a tax collector. Jesus says the humble tax collector is exalted. They sing, “Learn Your Lessons Well.” A debtor speaks to his master and is given forgiveness, but then he goes out and insists on collecting a debt. The master tells the debtor he should have had pity on the servant, and the debtor will have to pay the debt in full. Jesus says they can avoid that fate by forgiving others from their hearts.
Robin (Robin Lamont) sings, “Day by Day” as they leave the junkyard. Jesus preaches how they are to behave by not fighting back when slapped. Jesus tests John and then hugs him. Jesus says what will happen when God separates the sheep and the goats. Those who helped others will be blessed, and whatever they did for others they did to Jesus. Those who did not help others will be punished while the good get eternal life. They walk up steps and walk through a dark tunnel. Jesus says no one can serve two masters, God and money.
Inside a palace Joanne (Joanne Jonas) sings, “Turn Back, O Man.” Jesus continues the song singing, “Earth shall be fair,” and they all sing the chorus. At the end they come out and fall down in the street. They play out the story of a man traveling on the road to Jericho who was injured. A priest and a judge pass him by, but a Samaritan helps the man and pays for him to stay at an inn. They dance around the park, but Jesus tells them not to announce their deeds of charity. They should do good in secret. John explains about the angels in heaven, but Jesus says the heavenly Father sees what is done and will reward them. They give flowers and presents to John who tells about poor Lazarus who died and was taken to Abraham. The rich man died too but was sent to Hades where he suffered torment. He sees Abraham far away with Lazarus. The rich man prays for Lazarus to cool his tongue. The rich man prays that Lazarus be sent to his house. If someone rises from the dead, they may listen. Lynne (Lynne Thigpen) sings, “Bless the Lord” with the others on an outdoor stage. Jesus applauds their performance. They each tell about those who are blessed. From the stage Judas (David Haskell) speaks of those who will say evil against them falsely. Jesus says he reads feet, and they should be glad for their reward in heaven. Jesus and John sing, “All for the Best.” They all dance on top of a building and sing together.
In a plaza they clown around and pretend to fight. Jesus tells them to love their enemies. They play out the parable of the sower who sowed seeds in various places. Jesus explains the results of the plants. On the grass Merrell (Merrell Jackson) sings, “All Good Gifts” as the others dance around him. Jesus considers lilies in the field. They all sing thanking God.
In a theater Jesus plays piano and tells about a man who had two sons and divided his estate between them. During a silent film he tells about how the younger son sold his portion and squandered it on reckless living. He gets a job working on a farm taking care of pigs and is hungry. He decides to go home to his father, and he confesses to him, asking to be a servant. The father goes out to meet him and welcomes him home with a feast. The older son comes in from his work and complains to his father that he treats his profligate son better; but the father says his lost son has been found. They shout with joy and walk across a bridge as Jesus preaches. Jerry (Jerry Sroka), Gilmer (Gilmer McCormick), and Robin sing, “Light of the World” while they are on a boat.
On the dock Jesus is confronted by a monstrous voice who questions his authority and asks if they should pay taxes to the Roman emperor. Jesus says to pay Caesar his money but pay God what is due. Jesus teaches loving God and neighbors. He criticizes the lawyers and Pharisees. He says they all are brothers and have only one Father. Jesus sings, “Alas For You” and warns the blind fools. Jesus speaks to Jerusalem and walks on a wall and sits down. The others follow, and Katie (Katie Hanley) sings, “By My Side,” asking where he is going. They sing together to Jesus about walking. Kate takes the hand of Jesus, and they gather around him. Judas asks the priests what they will give him to betray him.
In the city streets they walk, dance, and sing, “Beautiful City.” They proclaim that they can build a beautiful city as the sun is setting. They find a place and prepare a table. Jesus shows Judas his face in a mirror and removes the paint from his face. Then he does the same to the others, and they wipe their faces. Jesus gets a jug of wine and says one will betray him. They each ask if it is them, and Jesus tells Judas to do it quickly. Judas gets up and runs off. Jesus blesses bread and shares it among them, calling it his body. He pours wine in two paper cups and passes it to the others, calling it his blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. During the song of Zion called “On the Willows” Jesus goes to each one. He tells them to stay awake there while he goes aside to pray. They lie down and sleep while Jesus prays to his Father. He tells them to stay awake, and they say they will not fall away. He predicts they will betray him three times. He prays again for God’s will to be done. He answers the temptations of the devil and tells Satan to go. He says he worships only God. Judas comes back as a police car arrives. Jesus looks at him, and Judas falls on his knees and clings to Jesus who tells him to do it quickly and kisses him. Judas stands up and blows a whistle and sings. He grabs Jesus who tells Merrell to put down the sword. Jesus says this is happening to fulfill what the prophets have written. Jesus is tied to a chain-link fence and sings in the “Finale” that he is bleeding and dying. The others struggle and sing in response.
In the morning the others sing, “Long live God” as they take his body down and carry him through arches. They sing, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” As they carry him in the city, they sing, “Day by Day.” The streets are crowded with people again.
This musical exudes joy in the company and teachings of Jesus as they learn the ways of the Lord.