'Godspell' not as controversial, but keeps its message
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke meet the hippie mantra of “peace, love and rock 'n' roll” in “Godspell,” the 1971 musical with timeless appeal. Stage Right will present the show over the next two weekends at Boyd Community Center in O'Hara.
The play relates parables from the Gospels using song, dance and humor in a series of fast-paced vignettes. Over the course of the show, the motley collection of people who gather to follow Jesus find themselves growing into a cohesive community.
The all-ages show was once controversial for its unconventional portrayal of Jesus Christ.
“When ‘Godspell' was first performed, it was considered by many to be shocking,” says director Lora Oxenreiter. “Its hippie-style approach to Jesus and the Bible was deemed blasphemous.”
The play's message, however, is one of unity and faith.
“There is an underlying message in ‘Godspell' that has little to do with organized religion,” Oxenreiter says. “It is about the coming together of diverse communities, finding a way to get along with one another in peace and harmony.”
Dan Wozniak is cast as the show's unconventional Jesus, who is clean-shaven and wears a Superman T-shirt. Underneath the 1970s styling, the character of Jesus is more true to tradition. “The familiar aspects of Jesus are there,” Wozniak says.
Much of the show is lighthearted, but Wozniak does not take his role lightly. “It's a very intimidating role,” he says. “On a personal level, my faith is important to me.”
Although “Godspell” is perhaps best known for its breakout hit song “Day by Day,” Wozniak has another favorite, “Beautiful City.”
“It's a beautiful song about community and building each other up and hope,” he says. The song serves as a transition into the final dramatic scenes of the Last Supper, betrayal and crucifixion.
Despite those culminating events, the show is not focused on the life of Jesus himself.
“It's about building a community,” says ensemble member Jim Froehlich. “The actual story itself is about that group of people, and about how Jesus' teachings bring them together.”
Froehlich plays a number of humorous characters throughout the play, including Noah, a Pharisee and a goat. “I'm kind of the comedic element to it,” he says.
While the show's costuming and tone remain true to the original, its lines have been updated and ad-libbed by the actors. One of Froehlich's vignettes tells the story of the prodigal son, but with a Pittsburgh accent.
“It's that type of thing that we're given the liberty to do that makes it a really fun show to do,” he says.
The actors will perform on the floor of the theater. Mats will be provided to form a children's seating area at the front. Audience members will be encouraged to participate in the performance by clapping, singing and dancing.
“We're making the audience as much a part of the show as we are,” Froehlich says.
Refreshments will be offered during intermission. Audience members may bring their own wine or beer.
Cynthia Bombach Helzel is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.