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Seminarians’ Performance of “The Bluff” Fills Auditorium, Delights Crowds

by Karla Dorweiler

The audience reviews are in: the world premiere of The Bluff at Sacred Heart Major Seminary made its mark as a smash hit.

The musical murder mystery comedy was co-written and co-directed by seminarian Deacon Steven Caraher with three friends from his home diocese of Gary, Indiana. The show debuted to a packed house on March 22 and 23 in the Sacred Heart auditorium.

Deacon Caraher opened in prayer before the cast of 21 took the stage to present the entertaining and suspenseful show which left audiences laughing out loud, tapping their feet to the music, and trying to guess “whodunnit.”

Full house

Each night, the 500-seat auditorium was filled with enthusiastic patrons. Angie and Jerry Mazurek, parents of Diocese of Marquette seminarian Zachary Mazurek, traveled 600 miles from Bessemer in the Upper Peninsula to see their son take the stage. Friends and family of Deacon Caraher and his co-writers made the trip from Indiana. Closer to home, people from around metro Detroit flocked to Sacred Heart to be the first to see the new musical performed.

As fans of mystery stories and the game Clue, Christa and Derek Byrd and four of their five children couldn’t wait to see The Bluff. At their school, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Beverly Hills, Marian, 12, Pierce, 10, Elise, 8, and Anne, 5, pray for seminarians with their classmates. When asked to name their favorite part of the show, all four cited the songs and the dancing.

Christa and the children attended last year’s Sacred Heart production, A Man for All Seasons, while Derek was deployed to Syria for a year with the U.S. Army.

“I think it’s great to see the Catholic community do things like this. I’m glad to be here and be part of it,” said Derek Byrd.

Sophia Ganes obtained a Certificate in Catholic Theology from Sacred Heart in 2020 and now serves as the Director of Youth Ministry at St. Mary Our Lady of the Snows in Milford. She first read about “The Bluff” in Detroit Catholic and was then invited to attend by a friend from the seminary, Deacon Tommy Ngo with the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Ganes plans to encourage teens from her youth group to attend next year.

“I think it would be a lot of fun. Some of my kids are theater kids and I would highly recommend they come. It’s an opportunity to see the humanity behind our future ‘men with a collar,’” Ganes said.

Eric and Annalisa Agustin attended with their eight children, ages 6 to 19. After the show ended on Friday evening, the Agustin girls – Monica, 9, Maria, 8, and Gianna, 6 – collected autographs from the cast.

“This show was amazing,” said Eric Agustin. “We are a musical family. My wife and I met doing a musical when we were in high school at De La Salle and Regina, and my sons have had roles with OHMI (Oakland Homeschool Music). We love musicals. When the sailors popped out from behind the curtains during the song ‘Walberg’s Shanty,’ it took the show to a whole new level. The whole thing really was amazing.”

In service to the Lord

Brother Basil Kersting, a 2nd year pre-theology seminarian at Sacred Heart, played the lead role of Dexter Dull Jr., an aspiring detective who set out to prove himself to his world-renowned detective father. Brother Basil majored in drama at the University of Dallas before entering the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit.

“This experience was extra special with everyone being so Christ-centered. We brought the Lord into it the entire way,” said Brother Basil. “Our goal is for everyone who watches it to know the Father’s love in a deeper way.”

Brother Basil’s earthly father flew in from Arizona to see the musical.

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow, but I wish there were ten more performances,” Brother Basil said after Friday’s performance. “It’s a privilege to do it.”

Bishop Robert McClory traveled from the Diocese of Gary to see the musical created by one of his seminarians. He became acquainted with the other co-writers – Matt Kresich, Scott Peters and George Jurincie – in 2019 when they helped the diocese navigate the world of livestreaming during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“They’re all outstanding Catholic men, and it’s a joy to see the play I’d heard about four years ago come to life,” said Bishop McClory.

Bishop McClory also enjoyed seeing other seminarians from the Diocese of Gary take on roles in the musical.

“The play itself was hilarious. The plot kept me engaged the whole time,” Bishop McClory said. “But when you think about how we’re trying to prepare our men to become priests – being able to project your voice, your presence as a public person, building that confidence – I would also say that in addition to the fact that it’s fun, it’s helpful to have an experience like this in their overall formation.”

Deacon Caraher, who also directed last year’s play at Sacred Heart, will be ordained a priest for the Diocese of Gary in June.

“As the bishop who ordained him a deacon and who is preparing to ordain him a priest, it brings me great joy to see him share his gifts so freely,” said Bishop McClory. “Deacon Caraher always brings his gifts in service of others, and he certainly exhibited that at the seminary where his leadership, musical talent, organizational skills and creativity are put in service to the Lord.”

Bonding as brothers

The Bluff is the first musical on Sacred Heart’s stage since 2016. Theater productions at the seminary are led by seminarians who are willing to give of their time and talent, both on stage and behind the scenes.

“Theater here is an opportunity, similar to our basketball team. It’s a chance for our seminarians to exhibit not only leadership, but docility in their willingness to be directed by their brothers,” said Fr. Stephen Burr, Rector for Sacred Heart. “It’s one more dynamic way our seminarians can develop as a man for the sake of his future ministry.”

Fr. Brian Meldrum has witnessed the value of theater at Sacred Heart, both in his time as a seminarian from 2009-2015, and now as faculty advisor for “The Bluff.”

“That teamwork, brotherhood, and fraternity that we talk about in every other aspect of seminary life comes through in a production like this,” Fr. Meldrum said. “The other thing I love about it is that God gives us these graces and gifts and talents to be used. He may ask men to use them in different ways than they imagined or for different ends, but the fact that they still get to use those gifts and talents is a great way for future priests to interact with the lay faithful.”

The curtain closes…for now

For Deacon Caraher, the debut of The Bluff has been a surreal experience. He was nearly moved to tears several times during each performance as he watched it unfold, knowing the many hours of sacrifice made by his brother seminarians and friends.

“When I started working on this piece seven years ago, I had very little faith that it was ever going to see the light of day on an actual stage, but it’s clear that God had other plans,” Deacon Caraher said. “It’s just become so clear to me that God has blessed this production abundantly, with the great talent of the co-authors, the main cast, the chorus, the musicians, and everyone behind the scenes. I am so proud of everyone who helped make The Bluff a reality.”

On both nights of The Bluff, the 500-person audience gave a standing ovation after the cast sang the final note. Patrons from Friday and Saturday’s performances told Mosaic that they hope “The Bluff” will become a new tradition at Sacred Heart, presented every 5 or 10 years by a new cast of talented seminarians and friends of the seminary.

For now, the auditorium has gone dark again. A renovation project is now underway in preparation to welcome guests for future plays, musicals, and community events at Sacred Heart.

by Karla Dorweiler

Karla Dorweiler

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Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.