Colorful costumes and bright, upbeat tunes are hitting the Gentile Gallery as the Franciscan University Musical Theatre Troup (FUMTT) puts on their latest production, “Godspell,” written by John-Michael Tebelak and composed by Stephen Schwartz.
Through song, dance and occasional comedic improvisation, “Godspell” enacts the parables found in the Gospel of Matthew and brings the Passion of Jesus Christ to life on stage.
“I was directing for the first time,” said junior Cathleen Sanborn, director of the musical. Having been in it herself previously, she felt comfortable directing the production. “It was something that I wanted to do,” she said. “It also really fit our needs (for the cast).”
“Godspell” is an ensemble-heavy show, and each cast member has a chance to shine under the spotlight, but the production also allows them to build their own “Beautiful City” through community within the club.
“You can go up to any one of these members, and they’re all just amazing people,” said sophomore Nate Kuhlman who plays Jesus in the musical. “They’re incredible people that I can trust completely.”
“Our cast is so creative and so talented,” said Sanborn. “I’m so glad that we’re doing this show with this cast because this show really allows everybody’s individual talent to be displayed.”
Senior Ashley Barham, the choreography director, appreciated what makes “Godspell” unique. “It’s a unique show too, just because … everyone has their own song that they sing and everyone’s in the show the whole time,” she said. “Everyone’s a lead, in a way.”
The song “Beautiful City” is part of the inspiration for why Sanborn chose the 2011 revival version of “Godspell” as opposed to the original version that opened off-Broadway in 1971, the version in which she herself had first performed. “The revival includes the song ‘Beautiful City’ which the old version does not include. ‘Beautiful City’ is what I made to be the heart of the show,” said Sanborn.
“Beautiful City” is about building a new city from the rubble and chaos of the philosophers in the prologue and creating a better community based on Jesus’ teachings. Kuhlman especially appreciated the song for its theme of evangelization. “The whole point of ‘Godspell’ is the evangelization aspect,” said Kuhlman. “Jesus is teaching his apostles, his disciples how to go out and … be evangelists.”
To show Jesus evangelizing his disciples, Kuhlman had the daunting task of imitating him. “Jesus was the perfect man. He was the best man, and no one could even come close to all that Jesus is, and so to portray that, at first, was terrifying,” he said. Kuhlman expressed the struggle with imitating the “perfect emotion” Christ himself would have portrayed. “I always see Jesus as loving, so it’s hard to portray him as anything else and feel … any other emotion.”
Aside from portraying “perfect emotions,” freshman Jacob Schweitzer, who plays Judas, has the challenge of switching emotions in the musical.
“For the first half of the show, it’s not really seen that I’m Judas (until the second act),” Schweitzer said. “For me, it’s a really big shift in the show … because I go from happy and joyful, and it actually gets kind of dark. … It’s hard to play that.”
Other than big roles like Jesus and Judas, faith itself plays an important role in the musical for the directors and cast, despite potential controversy.
“That was my initial concern (with “Godspell”). … Is this good? How are we going to do this in a way that’s respectful?” said Barham.
Barham recognized that “Godspell” combines her love of theatre with her faith, like most of the cast. “It’s like a Catholic theater kid’s dream,” said Sanborn. When choosing “Godspell”, Sanborn had a feeling that revival was going to play a big theme. “It just sheds a new light on the Gospel,” she said.
“Being in the show, you are literally participating in … portraying the Gospels, and it’s really powerful to be an actor or actress in the Gospel,” said Barham. “It … reminds you of the reality that this actually did happen.”
Along with combining faith and theater into one show comes the cast’s anticipation for the audience’s response. Sanborn hopes it will be a crowd pleaser since it is a fun-loving show with a message of love and community. “I’m just excited for it to win people’s hearts,” said Sanborn.
“Godspell” will run Friday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 23 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. in the Gentile Gallery in the JC Williams Center.