"Godspell," the groovy, rockin' musical that lit up the early '70s gets a fresh look this week, thanks to Cavalry Baptist Church, the State Theatre and director Jonathan Hetler.
"And just in time for Easter," Hetler says.
The show will run through Sunday, April 13 at the State Theatre.
"Godspell" tells the story of Jesus Christ and his last days, based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew. The Stephen Schwartz score includes popular tunes like Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord, Day by Day and When Will Thou Save the People?
In Hetler's version, a motley crew of rag-tag street people, ranging in ages from 10 to 50, discovers an abandoned theatre and its treasure trove of props, old wardrobe, scaffolding and mannequins. Although comprised of individuals from diverse backgrounds and beliefs, they also discover a sense of community as they perform a series of skits interpreting biblical parables.
The cast brings a refreshing energy to a show that could easily have become cliché over the years. Strong vocals, with effortless, flowing harmonies bring new vitality to the familiar songs. And, although the subject matter retains its spiritual overtones, it never resorts to proselytizing. In fact, Hetler and his cast have found a unique balance of reverence and levity.
"It's not meant to convert people," Hetler emphasizes.
In addition to musical talent, the cast of 13 have a great sense of timing, which brings out the humor in the show.
"We're using old vaudeville acts to act out the Parables," Hetler explains. "We incorporate things like barrel jumping, ventriloquist acts and contortionists."
Jesus, played by Andrew Druckenmiller, even gets to perform some sleight-of-hand.
This production also touches on current issues and public figures. Donald Trump gets a mention, as does a demand for a character's birth certificate. And a single mother, trailed throughout by two children, gets caught in adultery.
According to Hetler, the diversity of the individuals in the cast comes through in the way each performer chooses to portray their character. And they, like the fictional people they play onstage, have found ways to express their humanity while coming together to form a community.
"Everyone gets to be themselves," Hetler says.
When a cast so obviously has fun with the material, the audience can't help but get carried along. With the wit, the vocals, and the funky props, this genesis of Godspell offers something that will resonate with everyone.
IF YOU GO
When: Thursday, April 10 through Sunday, April 13
Where: The State Theatre, downtown State College