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'Godspell' takes new spin: Jesus as director of show

| Sunday, July 15, 2012, 10:57 p.m.

"Godspell's" timeless story can be told in many ways.

Mallory Hayden Mousseau, director of Armstrong Community Theater's staging of the classic based on the themes of the Gospel according to Matthew, hopes she has found an interpretation that will intrigue audiences.

It will be presented Thursday through Saturday in the air-conditioned auditorium of Kittanning High School's Performing Arts Center.

"This production creates a parallel between life and theater. God is our director and all of us actors," said the Ford City resident, who has a degree in musical theater from Shenandoah University.

It takes place in a theater where the actors, who portray characters from popular Broadway musicals, are auditioning for a show in which Jesus is directing and Judas is the stage manager.

"The show was meant to be adapted to the time period in which it is being performed," said Paul Wright of North Buffalo, theater president and a cast member.

Choreographer Jessica Bure of Ford City finds it refreshing to work on a production that is never the same twice. She directed and choreographed "Godspell" in her senior year at Clarion University.

"I've seen many different takes on the setting and concept in other productions, from one which was set at Ground Zero after 9/11 to another set on a children's playground," she said. "With our production being set in a theater rehearsal space, it is something we are all familiar with and it gives us so much to work with."

Mousseau said she wanted to make Armstrong Community Theater's production "very different" from the recent Broadway revival.

Wright said Mousseau has been "exceptional" in her direction and education of the cast about her approach and theatrical techniques.

Regardless of the setting, the music remains one of the stars of "Godspell." "I think the audience will be very impressed with the fantastic choral sound of our cast," Mousseau said.

Wright hopes the audience will appreciate this unconventional approach to presenting "The Greatest Story Ever Told." "It is a very moving show," he said. And it's one that does not have to be viewed from a spiritual perspective to be entertaining and enlightening, said ensemble member Marjorie Thomas of East Franklin.

"It speaks to people because it is about the building of a community as much as it is about the word of God," added Jacob Grantz of Ford City, who plays both John the Baptist and Judas.

Shows that touch the heart and are familiar -- but not cliche -- stories can stand the test of time, said Karissa Lloyd of Vandergrift, who portrays one of Christ's followers.

She recalled being enraptured as a child seeing her mother in a production of "Godspell" at the Casino Theatre in Vandergrift. "Every production I've seen of 'Godspell' (through the years) was something special."

Every person who sees a staging of "Godspell" can take a different story and experience a different setting and lesson from it, suggested Troy Dinga of Manor, who has a comedic role.

"That's what keeps people coming back to 'Godspell,' " he said. He finds the "deceptively simplistic" nature of the show appealing. "It's about a group of individuals learning what it takes to just be a good person, what being human truly means."

The show's premise reminds us all of those little lessons that we sometimes can forget when we get lost in our daily grind, said Joey Frollo of Plum, who portrays Jesus Christ. "We bring those stories, those lessons to life and seeing how they are applicable today," he said. "There is always a new approach to take when putting this show up, but it will continually bring back important lessons."

Cast member Emily Crossley, a teacher who directs the musicals at Kittanning High School, was drawn to the music and "uniqueness" of the show. "I want the audience to be part of this story and get lost in it," she said.

That happened to Dirk Ahlgrim of Templeton more than 30 years ago when he first saw "Godspell" in high school. "To say it had a profound effect on me would be an understatement," he said. "It took a story I was well familiar with and presented it in a fresh, relatable way, without ever disrespecting the material." He portrays a Broadway character as well as himself in this week's production.

It's a story, he said, of ordinary people who find themselves in an extraordinary set of circumstances.

"I hope people leave this show with the understanding that life is all about the incredible journey that we're all sharing with the people around us."

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrutkoski@tribweb.com or 724-226-4664.

If you go

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

Where: Kittanning High School Performing Arts Center

Details: 724-297-3228; www.armstrongcommunitytheater.org

Admission: Advance tickets at The Quality Inn Royle, Butler Road, West Kittanning; Baer Beauty, Fourth Avenue, Ford City; and Worthington Community Library in Worthington Civic Center Complex

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