As I come to the conclusion of my directorship of a production of the musical Godspell for the Plain Great Players in Abilene, Kansas, I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect upon this musical and to make a case for what a unique piece of theatre it is. Godspell, is, in fact, more of an outline for a musical than an actual script in the traditional sense. Yes, the spoken word, the music, and the lyrics are laid-out for the director and cast, but so much is left ambiguous, subject to interpretation. This is where the fun and originality begin. As you rehearse the scenes, everything is left open enough that the personalities of your cast creep into their roles, and suddenly your production of Godspell has taken on a life of its own.
I have directed Godspell three times over a twenty-two year career of teaching youth theatre. Each version has been vastly different in some ways, and incredibly similar in others. My first production featured performers as street urchins in an unnamed metropolis, finding the things they share, and celebrating their differences. My second production I gave the setting of the historic 1969 Woodstock concert, with players showing up as a band of hippies, celebrating peace, love and music. My production that opens this week features twenty teens that are a part of a theatre company that lost everything to a fire last year. This production has been thematically and literally about rebirth, the coming together of a community to create, out of the ashes, something bigger than any one person. The story of Jesus and his disciples, acting out the parables, lends itself beautifully to this theme.
Stephen Schwartz's music and lyrics are also a treat to work with, again and again, because of its variety, majesty, and its energy. There are very few musical theatre scores that are so packed with joyous, uplifting numbers such as "Save the People", "Bless the Lord", "All for the Best", "We Beseech Thee". Where Schwartz chooses to take a quieter, subtler approach ("By My Side" and "On the Willows"), they are so perfectly positioned to evoke deeply felt emotion when the story turns toward sacrifice and sadness.
The religious aspects of Godspell should not turn anyone off to the piece. It's a musical about humanity, community, and coming together to treat each other with respect. It projects a message that is universal, despite your religious affiliations, convictions, and/or interpretations. This is a musical piece that transcends all divisiveness and invites an audience of all backgrounds to laugh, love and embrace diversity. It's simplicity in conveying that may be its most durable attribute.
So, as the cast of the Plain Great Players readies for their opening tomorrow, I wish them well and hope they find their own special brand of community and rebirth through this exciting production we have assembled. Please join me in congratulating their efforts! Nick Wright, Brendon Dalton, Carly Graefe, Liz Collins, Jackson Welsh, Raelynn Reeves, Ivy Tompkins, Darren Whalen, Judah Weese, Abigail Elliott, Mara Coufal, Harlie Delay, Josh Young, Peter Jennings, Rebecca Swartz, Alec Hoover, Matt Rosebrook, Hannah Colburn, Phillip Hayes, Anna Shafer, and Jordan Luty, break-a-leg and enjoy this. You have earned it.