Jesus takes the stage from the back corner. He’s wearing jeans, sneakers and a Patriots t-shirt. He takes a few steps forward, then says almost casually, “Hey.
That’s how director Marijke Perry ’22 chose to stage the lead actor’s grand entrance into Ensemble Theater at Brown’s production of “Godspell.” It’s a colorful, down-to-earth entrance, instilling humanity in the Son of God and welcoming the audience into a bright, entertaining, and full of smiles musical.
College Hill’s performance of “Godspell” hit Alumnae Hall on November 12 and lasted all weekend. All four shows were sold out before opening night.
The musical is presented as a series of parables told towards the end of Jesus’ life. Judas and other disciples all help him sing, dance and play – like a campfire – many of Christianity’s most universal lessons. Most of the acts are ensemble pieces, with the entire cast laughing, partying, and tap dancing in tandem. The whole show, as Perry put it, radiates “community, love and forgiveness.” A few spectators were even invited to join in the fun.
Peter Zubiago ’22, who was one of those audience members, was spontaneously called on stage to fill the role of Lazarus. After reading the piece of dialogue that was given to him on a few cards, he played the dying man on stage in front of the whole theater. As Zubiago said, “What more could you ask for? ”
Beyond surprise calls for the audience to participate in an immersive theatrical experience, Ensemble Theater strives to create a performance that is meant to be full of emotion, character and inclusiveness. The cast, Perry said, had to “somehow come in, make the audience think they were all friends and that was exactly the sort of thing wacky friends do if they could get in. breaking into a theater for two hours “.
They ended up proving themselves more than capable – the musical was a welcoming experience not only for the audience but also for every actor. Actress Madeleine Adriance ’23, 5, who played Judas, said: “The rehearsal room (was) definitely a place where everyone’s ideas were welcome.” She added that the actors were even encouraged to collaborate and create their own choreography, explaining that Perry “really wanted us to feel connected to what we were doing on stage and taking ownership of it.”
Originally composed by Stephen Schwartz with the book by John-Michael Tebelak, “Godspell” offers space in its unique screenplay for stylistic interpretations of each director and production crew. Perry chose to highlight the moment in the musical when Judas is accepted back into the community after Jesus’ death.
“We are stronger than the mistakes we make,” said Perry, referring to Judas’ infamous betrayal. “Judas was as much a member of the community as anyone else.”
Perry’s decisions in directing the musical were heavily influenced by their own personal experience. “Being a Christian and being gay in tandem,” they said, “can also make someone feel outside their own religion.” By choosing to highlight Judas’ welcome return instead of his betrayal, they once again reiterated the values of love, community and freedom of expression present throughout the show.
“I wanted to make sure people knew there was no way for us to go through history damning someone from the start,” Perry explained.
Adriance agreed with this perspective while acknowledging the long history of exclusion from Christianity. “This show really goes against that,” she said.
The show presents a different take on more Orthodox Christian ideals. The disciples are a mishmash of brightly dressed friends, all of whom love to tell stories and do silly things and don’t see the need to be formal. Jesus and Judas both fit in perfectly. “By making them clowns,” said Perry, referring to the characters in the play, “it’s not an attempt to make fun of religion per se. It’s a way of saying that my version of the presentation is no less valid than yours.
The show ends with a return to several of his previous songs, culminating in bright lights, ear-to-ear smiles and the actors leaping from the stage to surround the audience seated on the floor. Overall, the room sings of faith as something to be taken “day to day”.
“I am incredibly happy and proud of the cast and crew and all of the work that has gone into this process,” said Perry. Adriance echoed their warm gratitude, adding that after a long period of confinement in their homes, “doing this show, it’s a real ensemble show, was such a joy”.
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