You’re Playing Godspell Again?

I am – two nights only, and we’ve performed the first night already. Not much to the sandwich between opening and closing nights this time, but it does have me thinking.

I first heard the music from Godspell as a kid – my mom or dad must have picked up the record – and while I don’t remember for sure, I also think that some of the tunes were on the radio – imagine that!

And then in high school, I probably saw a video of the production a pair of times – and by then – I was also turning into a guitar player – so – it’s no wonder that by the time I arrived at college and settled into both a Jesuit education and a musical community that Godspell would become a pretty big part of both of those stories.

Back then, it was just the music – with few exceptions (especially then) musicals catered to an orchestra – so having a still popular musical that looked like a rock combo (drums, guitar, bass, keys) was fun. And – with the convergence of that Jesuit school and a musical based on the Gospel of St. Matthew – it’s no wonder that by the time I graduated, I’d learned to play most of the music.

It got really fun after, though: I’d just finished playing for Man of La Mancha – one of my first on stage musical parts. A few months after the show, I was riding my bike home from work and spotted one of the cast members at his new house. Richard had played a small part in Man of La Mancha, but has a great singing voice. He mentioned that he was auditioning for Godspell in general, but wouldn’t do the show unless he got to be Jesus. I let him know that I wanted to play the show – but a few days later he called to say that they were going to do the show with just a trio.

I was some disappointed – the show has some exceptionally fun guitar parts. So you can imagine my surprise several weeks later when Richard phoned to ask if I could play the show after all!

Turned out – it was a brand new theatre company(I think my mic cable is still buried underneath the stage there) and Godspell was their first show. I had 3 days to meet the cast and rehearse with the band before we were up for a 7 week run –5 shows a week!

It was something, all right. Small theatre (100 seats) very talented cast, hot band (if I do say so), and huge energy. I grew up hearing those stories of Jesus, had even spent my first few post college years working for a church. So while the stories weren’t new – they way I heard them sure changed – not because the words were different, but because the people sharing the story were.

It’s funny – here we were – a talented, but nevertheless rag-tag group of just around a dozen. And in a 7 week period, we forged bonds of a lifetime. Oh, I know that sound s a little silly, but it’s, not, not really. Imagine – 5 shows a week in 4 days. When you add in the getting there early, cleaning up, and hanging out afterwards – you start to get close to a 30 hour week. Toss in the odd kayak trip, the post show cast party, the extra gig, the move from one rental house to another – and in a 7 week span – you’ve lived a lifetime.

About a year after that production, we did the show again. Some of the same cast, but some new folks, too. Richard was back as Jesus – and – was moving to Virginia on closing night. Literally – he’d packed his house and all of his stuff and was starting the drive after the show closed.

So – there’ s a good-bye scene in the show Jesus where says farewell to his friends. And here’s the power of a great story, great friends, and theatre:

Richard makes his rounds while we played a tune – and it was obvious to anyone watching that there was more than acting going on – those individual goodbyes’ were a layer of great acting and everyone saying goodbye to their friend Richard – but also – in the context of the show – the person that they thought was God.

After his last goodbye, though, Richard kept moving –he interrupted the drummer, the bass player, the keyboard player, and came my way. By the time he got to me, I was a wreck – by then we’d performed together close to 50 times, kayaked, wrote music, cooked meals – and he was off for Virginia – AND – his character was off for crucifixion.  Even in the midst of a teary goodbye, I remember feeling the intersection of many things – Richard, my friend; Jesus, the story I learned as I kid; knowing that I might not see him again (I haven’t); the enthusiasm for a great performance; and much, much more.

So – yep – playing the show again. It’s different, because, well, the world is different, and so am I. The cast is different, the band is different, we’re playing some of the music differently – but – still:

I’m reminded that actors can make community out of almost nothing, that art and music reveal new things, and that things can change but remain steadfast all at the same time.


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