Journey to Bethlehem movie musical aimed at children and teens

November 14, 2023

Milo Manheim as Joseph and Fiona Palomo as Mary in a scene from the movie “Journey to Bethlehem.” It was released in theaters Nov. 10. (Photo courtesy of “Journey to Bethlehem”)

HOUSTON — Actor Antonio Banderas plays a mean King Herod in the newly released movie musical “Journey to Bethlehem” that was released on Nov. 10 in theaters, demonstrating his strong pipes in singing as he did in his Golden Globe-nominated role in the movie “Evita.”

The two main stars who play Mary and Joseph in this Christmas nativity film are definitely aimed at a younger audience. Fiona Palomo, 24, plays a sweet but strong-willed mother of God to-be and is known for her role in Netflix’s young adult drama Outer Banks. Milo Manheim, 22, as Joseph, is best known for his starring role in Disney Channel’s Zombies and its sequels.

A retelling of the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus, the film is a live-action Christmas musical weaving new pop songs and classic Christmas melodies with humor and faith.

Their joking jabs at each other make the story much more light-hearted but also light on Scripture. The fast-paced singing and dancing, though, move the story along quickly in an hour and 38 minutes.

Manheim, in a statement, said, “I hope this music goes down in history because I’m going to be listening to it for a long time. It’s one of the best musicals I’ve ever been a part of.”

The soundtrack was released before the movie.

The film is also beautifully shot in Spain with desert landscapes, Herod’s sumptuous palace, and the villagers’ homes of roughly hewn blocks of stone, wood beams and smoothed-down clay.

The story stays true to form about a young woman with an unimaginable responsibility, singing about carrying a child while she needs God “to carry me.” Joseph is aptly torn between love and honor, while the jealous king will stop at nothing to keep his crown and power. The three Magi are comedic relief, playing off each other and calling themselves the “three wise guys” in song. But they also remember to bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The Romans are played seriously as the ones who force Joseph and Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the census as part of Joseph’s family line from King David. The couple traditionally travel those 70 miles over rough terrain for several days via a donkey that has its own personality as well.

A unique new entry into the collection of holiday classic movies, this Christmas musical is unlike any before it. But don’t expect Mary to speak the Magnificat upon greeting a pregnant Elizabeth in the movie.
Plus, the Archangel Gabriel also doesn’t even say the “Hail Mary” lines that churchgoers are familiar with in attending Nativity plays. The angel is played by Christian rapper Lecrae, another nod to young people.

Christian singer-turned-actor Joel Smallbone of the band For King and Country plays Antipater, the notorious King Herod’s son in the film. Smallbone noted that the musical direction of “Journey to Bethlehem” is a tribute to one of the Gospel’s most theatrical moments.

“The nativity story is sort of a musical at the heart of it,” he explained. “These angels show up, and they’re singing to the shepherds.”

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angels, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Lk 2:13)
“This is the story that turned BC to AD,” Smallbone said in a recent interview about why this film is important. “Everything changed with the birth of Jesus.”

He joined his wife Moriah, who was cast in the film first playing Mary’s sister. The entire show was formed under the direction of Adam Anders, whose ear for music won him awards for his work on “Glee” and “High School Musical.”

Anders, in a press release, commented, “I have had a dream to create a Christmas musical for years, and to see it come to life with a stunning cast has exceeded every expectation. We could not be more excited for this film to be a classic for years to come.” This is the first musical release from Affirm Films, the Christian films label of Sony, the same studio behind such movies as “War Room,” “Fireproof” and “Miracles from Heaven.”

Tickets for the film are already on sale for the limited release, which will run exclusively in theaters starting Nov. 10.