‘Godspell’ at McPherson College Takes Modern Spin on Familiar Gospel Story

By Adam Pracht, McPherson College
November 09, 2016

Few stories are as timeless and well-known in Western culture as that of the Christian gospel. But even this familiar tale will feel fresh and new with the production of “Godspell” coming to the McPherson College stage Nov. 17 to 19.

The popular musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak is based primarily on the Gospel of Matthew. However, Jd. Bowman, the show’s director, cautions that it should not be taken as “Christian theatre” – given that it wasn’t originally written from a Christian perspective and it stops just after the crucifixion with no explicit depiction of the Resurrection.

“We are not doing a passion play. That’s not what this is about,” the associate professor of theatre said. “It’s a play about a man who brought people together through stories. Then after he left, they chose to stay and work together. A lot of the time, I bring my spirituality into secular plays. This is bringing theatre to the church.”

“Godspell” originally hit the stage in 1971, and is probably the version that most theatregoers will be familiar with.

This production, however, will use the book and music from the 2011 Broadway revival of the musical. This “refresh” of the musical by Schwartz was designed to make the musical more modern – with arrangements, keys and instrumentation choices that are more contemporary.

In the show, the actors’ parts are almost completely fluid, with Jesus the only role to stay consistent throughout. Otherwise, the character playing John the Baptist turns into Judas Iscariot by the end, and everyone else is a member of the “Company” and takes on roles as needed.

Bowman said that the musical has remained so popular over the decades largely because of its message, and because of the music that audience members are sure to still be singing and humming as they leave the theatre. That music includes everything from softshoe tap in “All for the Best,” to singer-songwriter ballads such as “By My Side,” to driving rock in “Alas For You.”

Bowman said it was a family-friendly show with catchy music and dance that have required incredible stamina from the cast.

“This is easily the highest energy piece all year,” he said. “It’s just fun.”

The production at MC will have a number of unique features of its own. These will include the challenge of setting the show “in the round” – with the audience surrounding the stage and ramps leading up to a second level for performers.

“Our set is part circus tent and part revival tent,” Bowman said, “Drawing the line between the religious and entertainment worlds.”

The stagecraft class also had a unique challenge as they were ask to take common cultural symbols, corporate logos and religious icons and how figure out how to turn them into fully three-dimensional objects. Even the actors have a unique challenge, as each of them are assembling and creating their own costume.

“Godspell” will be showing in Mingenback Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 to 19, with an additional matinee performance at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 19.

Tickets to all shows cost $5 for adults and $3.50 for children ages high school and younger as well as seniors. Reservations may be made by contacting the theatre box office at 620-242-0444 or at [email protected] 

Cast is: Grant Tuttle, junior, Lewiston, Neb. (Jesus); Chandler Dohe, senior, Limon, Colo. (John/Judas); Ali Childs, sophomore, Junction City, Kan.; Coby Comley, freshman, Sterling, Kan.; Tanner Trigg, freshman, Mission, Texas; Chris Rakowski, senior, Joppa, Md.; Callie Atkins, senior, Stillwater, Okla.; Tara Gladdin, senior, Marquette, Kan.; Bailey Short, freshman, Westland, Mich.; Amanda Connell, junior, Wichita, Kan.; Micaila Curtis, freshman, Great, Bend, Kan.; Whitney Murray, junior, Kansas City, Kan.; and Nancy Dorrell, freshman, Newton, Kan. (Company).

Crew is: Bowman (director); Dr. Rick Tyler, professor of speech and theatre (set and technical director); Abby Trenkle, senior, Haysville, Kan. (stage manager); Elizabeth Thornton, freshman, Karval, Colo.; Dan Reynolds, freshman, McPherson, Kan. (lights); Erin Fralick, junior, New Palestine, Ind. (props); and Becky Snell ’05, McPherson, Kan. (music director).

Contact:Adam Pracht, public relations coordinator, 620-242-0425, [email protected]

McPherson College, located in central Kansas, is a four-year private liberal arts college offering more than 20 bachelor’s and pre-professional programs. Throughout the curriculum, students are encouraged to explore their ideas, to learn through doing and to make a difference in the world.  McPherson College, affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, is committed to the ideals of scholarship, participation, and service – developing whole persons, prepared for fulfilling life vocations.

Visitwww.mcpherson.edufor more information about McPherson College.