(Host) When the musical “Godspell” was performed off-Broadway in the early 1970s, the audience was invited onstage during the intermission for wine and cheese. That communal spirit is at the heart of “Godspell,” now being presented at the St. Michael’s College Playhouse in Colchester.
VPR’s Neal Charnoff takes us backstage.
(Sound of piano track from musical score.)
(Charnoff) Based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, “Godspell” is a contemporary portrait of Christ and his disciples, told through story and song. But according to the show’s director, C.T. Steele, this is not your parents’ “Godspell”:
(Steele) “That whole concept of clowns and as the movie version kind of took it further into that whole flower children kind of age, that means very little to this cast, and to a lot of the younger people. I mean, you would have to read about it in history books.”
(Charnoff) Steele and Musical Director Tom Cleary searched for a concept that could still represent a cross-cultural grab bag of genres, along with a sense of fun. They settled on placing this production in the French Quarter of New Orleans, home to Mardi Gras. Steele says they also updated the show to speak to today’s audience.
(Steele) “One example one of the parables deals with an unjust judge and the woman that comes for vindication against this judge. So we’ve placed it with the French ice-skating judge from the Olympics, and the Canadian skater who wants vindication for her great performance. So that’s the context, so people now have those handles to grab onto to further illustrate and get a hold on what we’re trying to get across.”
(Sound of song, “Day by Day.”)
(Charnoff) Musical Director Tom Cleary says setting the play in New Orleans adds spark to “Godspell’s” original score, written by Stephen Schwarz.
(Cleary) “We’ve been doing a lot to try to bring a New Orleans jazz flavor to the gospel score. We’ve worked a little bit of Professor Longhair, a little bit of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and then – just ’cause it’s fun – we’ve worked some of the Supremes and some Prince into it.”
(End of song, “Day By Day”.)
(Charnoff) At first, director C.T. Steele didn’t think he would want to mount a production of “Godspell.” But when he looked at the script again, he realized there was no better time to revisit the show than right now.
(Steele) “Without having to address those occurrences on September 11 and what’s happening in the Middle East directly within the show, that strong voice of community, support to one another, dealing with hypocrisy, dealing with people who are in charge but not listening to other people, listening to the voice of the people they’re supposedly leading – all of that has great resonance nowadays.”
(Charnoff) Brad Coolidge, who plays Jesus, agrees that the world is once again ready for “Godspell.”
(Coolidge) “You know, we all came together as a country, and this is, we’re all coming together as a community in New Orleans to celebrate God and celebrate people and humanity and life. And I think that’s what this show is about it’s just celebrating life.”
(Charnoff) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Neal Charnoff in Colchester.
(Host) “Godspell” will be performed at St. Michael’s College Playhouse through August 10.