'Godspell' Makes a Joyful Noise for 80th Anniversary Theater Season
Saint Joseph's University's Cap and Bells celebrates landmark year
Friday, September 28, 2007
PHILADELPHIA (September 28, 2007) - The international musical theater phenomenon Godspell will open the 80th anniversary season of Cap and Bells Dramatic Arts Society, Saint Joseph's University's theater production program on Thursday, October 18, at 8 p.m., in the Bluett Theatre. Based on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, the sparkling score by award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) features many well-loved songs including "Day by Day," and "By My Side." Godspell was one of the longest-running shows off-Broadway, where it played from 1971-1976 before moving to Broadway, running there for over a year. Since then, it has been performed in countless cities around the world. The 2000 off-Broadway revival was described by the New York Times as a "giddy rapture."
The director and choreographer Renee Dobson, M.F.A., assistant professor of fine and performing arts and co-artistic director of Cap and Bells, is very familiar with the piece. "I grew-up with Godspell, but only two or three cast members are familiar with it," she said. "It's really new to them, and it's exciting to see them discover its magic."
In the original production, the performers played the characters – John the Baptist/Judas, Jesus and some followers – as a troupe of circus clowns, street performers and mimes. Dobson and her design team have set the production on the rooftop of a Broadway theater in midtown Manhattan in the present day.
The cast has created timely back-stories for their characters. "Because Godspell is so versatile in structure, every production is conceived differently. The actors have brought 21st century references to their work – one plays an urban gang member in trouble for selling drugs, and another lost her parents to the 9/11 tragedy. All are searching for something, but they gather together at night and find their way to Jesus,'' she said.
According to Dobson, Godspell serves the Jesuit mission of the University in a unique manner. "Obviously, you can get the social justice aspect from many plays, but I like to highlight issues of faith when the opportunity arises. Godspell accomplishes this in both a playful and powerful way," she added.
The late John-Michael Tebelak, a directing graduate student at Carnegie-Mellon University, developed Godspell in 1970. Tebelak was at one time interested in the Episcopal ministry, and reportedly conceived the musical in response to his experience at an Easter Sunday service, which he found uninspiring and devoid of joy.
When he read Saint Matthew's gospels, he was struck by their innate sense of celebration – the opposite of his Sunday church attendance. The title of the musical derives from the Anglo-Saxon word godspel, which means "good story," and is the root for the word "gospel."
This production marks the second time the piece has been produced at SJU. "It was first produced here in November 1985 by the late Francis Olley, Ph.D. '48, the long-time director [1949-2000] of Cap and Bells. Dr. Olley created an enduring legacy for the group by starting the scholarship program. Almost all members of Cap and Bells – there are 30 – receive a scholarship to participate in the production program, for which they audition," she said.
The play calls for a cast of 10, but Dobson has cast 12 actors to contribute to a richer vocal sound. Included are two international students – Jean Bernard Cerin, an opera singer from Haiti, a senior fine and performing arts major who is an ensemble member and solos on "All Good Gifts," and Reid Smith, from Perth, Australia, a sophomore who plays John the Baptist/Judas.
Tim Couglin, S.J, founded Cap and Bells Dramatic Arts Society in 1928. During its eighty-year history, the organization has mounted over 150 productions ranging from Shakespeare to Moliere and modern drama to contemporary musical theater.
"Godspell is the only show this season that has been produced in the past. I thought it was fitting to circle back for the 80th anniversary," she added.
The musical director for the production is guest artist Douglas Lutz of the Walnut Street Theatre. Robert Carovillano, technical director of Bluett Theatre, will design scenery and lighting and guest artist Mary A. Folino will design the costumes. Three members of the four-piece band are guest musicians; the bass player is sophomore fine and performing arts major James Pepper.
The spring semester productions are Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, directed by co-artistic director Laura Grace Patillo, Ph.D., assistant professor of English, playing February 14-24; Dobson will direct Chicago, playing April 10-20.
Godspell performs October 18-20 and 25-27 at 8 p.m. For tickets, call the box office at 610-660-1181 or visit http://www.sju.edu/capandbells. General admission is $15; students, SJU employees and senior citizen tickets are $8. Group rates are available for parties of 10 or more. Bluett Theatre is located in Post Hall at 56th St. & Overbrook Ave.