Bethany is the scene-setter that opens the show.
While it is being sung the 3 members of the Bethany family (Lazarus,
Mary and Martha walk around welcoming the audience as party guests.
The song describes the village of Bethany in terms and images
derived directly from the gospel texts. Bethany was indeed an obscure
village that had no previous claim to fame. Close as it was to the
capital city, the historic events and key people of that region
seemed to have to the passed it by.
But its name ("House of dates" or "House of figs")
prefigured its importance to the gospel story. Primarily because
of one family's faithfulness it did indeed become a fruitful place.
It also became the setting for a favourite lesson about the contrast
between action and prayer. And the hospitality provided by the Bethany
family made it one of Jesus' favourite lodging places. That's why
it appears so often in the background of gospel stories.
The verses of this song were originally meant to be sung as
introductions to individual scenes. But, as the format of the play
took clearer shape the song was put back together to be sung at
the start of the show.
Verse 4 reflects the time when most of the disciples fled Jerusalem
and imagines them taking refuge in Bethany. This plausible scenario
is mentioned in the script, but this verse was omitted from the
premiere performances shown on the film