Tuesday night’s rehearsal for “Godspell” can only be described as controlled chaos. When not actually singing and acting, the actors and the set, lighting and music crew swarmed over the Glenwood Springs High School auditorium stage like crazed hornets.
Presented by Defiance Community Theatre, “Godspell” opens tonight, Friday, Nov. 15. It continues with performances this Saturday and Sunday, and plays next Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 21, 22 and 23. Curtain time is 8 p.m. for all shows except for the Sunday, Nov. 17, matinee at 2 p.m. and family night, Thursday, Nov. 21, when the curtain rises at 7:30 p.m.
The hum that fills the cavernous space is one part musical instruments tuning up, one part actors practicing their songs into their remote microphones, and one part general buzz of monitor feedback and stage directions. It all amounts to a steady cacophony that only levels off and takes shape when the actors get down to the business of the play.
The story, based on the Gospel of St. Matthew, revolves around the last seven days of Christ’s life. Through parables and sermons, Jesus molds his rag-tag followers into believers. Although they test him, they are clearly captivated by his message.
They play out the stories of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Pharisees and the tax collector. Familiar figures – Lazarus and Mary Magdalen and John the Baptist – also appear.
But any similarity to organized religion stops there.
Author John Michael Tebelak wrote the play as a senior thesis while at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, in reaction to what he saw as the state of religion.
On Easter Sunday 1970, Tebelak went to church in Pittsburgh and found the service devoid of feeling. On his way home after the service, he was stopped by a cop because of his long hair and searched for drugs. Both experiences inspired him to write the play.
It’s not so much what Jesus says here, but how. What makes the play work even now, 30 years after its debut off Broadway, is the packaging.
Jesus is the sideshow huckster playing to his flower children followers. He gives them his precepts of love, forgiveness, tolerance and celebration like an old time vaudeville act, couched in slapstick, mime and song.
Like a prancing Mick Jagger, Jesus exhorts his people to “mend thy foolish ways,” and, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
At one point, miming the opening of a fortune cookie, Jesus proclaims, “He who humbles himself shall have great reward in heaven.”
Played against a backdrop of oversized furniture and a bank of flashing television monitors, the words of the New Testament are juxtaposed against our modern techno-sensibilities.
During one number, as pictures of the World Trade Center towers flash on the screens behind them, the company sings, “We can build a beautiful city . a city of men.”
The music, given an up-tempo, 1990s arrangement by musical director Eileen Chidsey, is rock and blues and the familiar groove of hip-hop.
Ten local actors make up the cast, including Dylan Cox, Michael Banks, Eileen Chidsey, Jackie Collier, China Kwan, Kale Lacroux, David Miller, Kathryn Preston, Betsy Scheidt and director, choreographer and stage designer Mark Michaels, who plays Judas.
The force of the play “is how they come together as a community,” Michaels said. “It’s a ’70s play, but its message is all about now.
“It’s a rollercoaster of emotion from start to finish,” he added.
Tickets for the show are $12 for adults and $10 for children under 17 for the Nov. 15, 16, 22 and 23 performances. Tickets for the Nov. 17 matinee and the Nov. 21 performance are $10. Tickets are available at WestStar Bank in City Market, the Mountain Peddler, Marc’s Toys and Pets in Glenwood Springs and the Framer in Carbondale.
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A battle over COVID-19 precautions intensified in the mid-Roaring Fork Valley on Thursday. A private school contends parents alone should determine whether their children should wear masks. Eagle County will seek a court order to make the school comply if it continues in-person learning.