‘Brother Joseph, Brother Joseph!’ coming this Sunday

Interactive children’s musical shares Ave Maria Grotto builder’s story

Image courtesy of Ave Maria Grotto

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Ave Maria Grotto at St. Bernard Abbey has earned its place as one of the top must-see tourist destinations in Alabama, but this Sunday, it will offer a little something more as local artists Ben South and Donna Drake hold the public premier of the children’s musical “Brother Joseph, Brother Joseph” in the Grotto park. The interactive show, which pairs new lyrics with familiar tunes (“Frère Jaques, Frère Jaques . . .” becomes “Brother Joseph, Brother Joseph . . .” for instance), invites kids to join in the fun while learning the story of the German monk who built the Grotto. 

South told The Tribune, “Brother Joseph’s story: he lived a real-life fairy tale; you’ve heard that said before. He’s sent to America when he’s 14 years old, never sees his family again, never goes back to Europe and Germany again, he almost drowns at one point, he breaks his back building the belfry at St. Bernard Monastery; you know, all those things that happened, like overcoming obstacles. And I think that’s one of the basic messages of the musical is that we all, with creative thinking, we can overcome anything or most anything. You see him living through all of these challenges, but then the happy-ever-after part of his real-life fairy tale is that he reaches 30 to 50 thousand people a year that visit the Grotto.” 

South said that the presentation is geared toward children ages 3-10 though, though of course, everyone is welcome. In addition to Bro. Joseph’s story, kids will also have the opportunity to work on learning their colors and maybe pick up a few new tidbits of knowledge. 

Kids teaching kids 

The show features 15-year-old Arianna Randall and 11-year-old Lucienne Randall. Arianna, a concert pianist, and Lucienne, a ballerina at the Brooke Desoès Ballet Academy, are the children of St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church Associate Pastor Nate Randall and his wife Lauren Randall. 

Following a private performance last week to work out the bugs, South said, “They did a terrific job! They engaged the audience nicely.” 

Ora et Labora for a new generation 

The show, set and performed in the Benedictine monastery where Bro. Joseph lived, takes the religious order’s motto Ora et Labora, “Prayer and Work,” and translates it, not from Latin to English, but from monastic tradition to modern kid. 

Said South, “It’s a rap song, so it’s the first time, I think, for there to be a Benedictine rap! But it really worked with the kids.” 

See Bro. Joseph’s studio! 

“Brother Joseph, Brother Joseph” is fairly brief, about 30 minutes, so visitors will have plenty of time to tour the Grotto park and enjoy the experience of an afternoon at St. Bernard. On this particular Sunday, they will also have an opportunity to visit Bro. Joseph’s actual studio and workshop where he designed and built the pieces displayed in the Grotto park. The workspace, under renovation by South and Drake, will be opened briefly to visitors following the performance. 

Grotto Manager Roger Steele told The Tribune, “The Grotto staff is always looking for unique ways to show Bro. Joseph’s amazing creativity to people of all ages. When Ben approached us about performing a children’s musical about Bro. Joseph’s life and art, we were so excited to help bring his vision to life right here on the grounds of the Grotto.”  

At a glance 

“Brother Joseph, Brother Joseph” children’s interactive musical 

Sunday, May 30, 2021 at 2 p.m. 

Ave Maria Grotto at St. Bernard Abbey, 1600 St. Bernard Dr. in Cullman 

Tickets $4, available at the Grotto gift shop 

Bro. Joseph’s studio will be open to visitors following the performance. 

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W.C. Mann