By Kelly Vena
The Don Evans Black Box Theater was filled to its capacity during the Tuesday, Nov. 17, through Saturday, Nov. 21, performances of this year’s TCNJ Musical Theater (TMT) fall musical, “Godspell.” The famous musical, created by Stephen Schwartz and debuted on Broadway in 1971, details the teachings of Jesus to his disciples, according to the Gospel of Matthew.
“‘Godspell’ is known to be one of the most challenging shows to develop, especially for us and the actors,” director and senior communication studies major Sarah Jennings said in reference to herself and her co-director, senior elementary education and history major Sarah Drozd. “It is almost entirely up for interpretation, which means we needed to have a very clear vision throughout the entire process and be able to work with everyone on executing the vision.”
The vision decided upon by the cast and crew was to take a more modernized approach to the show and to follow the 2012 revised version of the musical.
“More than half of the show was more or less created through collaboration, improv and ad-libbing between the actors, which proved to be more difficult than expected,” Jennings said.
The ad-lib and improvisation turned out to be a huge success with the audience. References to elements of pop culture, such as the obsession with Chipotle and smart phones, and an a cappella rendition of “Uptown Funk,” elicited loud applause and laughter.
“‘Godspell’ is very dependent on audience reaction,” said senior biology major Kenneth Abes, who played Jesus. “No two shows are the same.”
The show opened with a powerful number, “Prologue,” which was performed by the entire 10-person cast. It thoroughly demonstrated each actor’s singing and dancing talents to the audience.
The cast flawlessly executed collaborative, as well as individual, performances. All the cast members had their own number in which they sang the major roles in order to demonstrate various parables that Jesus taught the disciples. Judas, played by junior industrial/organizational psychology major Melissa Albert, was the first disciple to do so. Albert’s rendition of “Prepare Ye” left the audience with chills as her voice expertly hit both high and long notes throughout the number.
Abes, however, admitted it was not easy learning the songs and collaborative dances.
“It was really challenging, but worth it,” he said. “We had a wonderful music director and choreographer who helped us out a lot.”
“Godspell” provided not only life lessons, but also entertaining and engaging scenes for the audience. One of the most memorable moments of the show included the cast choosing audience members to participate in various scenes throughout the show.
“Many who went to see the show said that they had a lot of fun, even though they might not all be ‘theater people,’” Drozd said. “The stories, dancing, singing and jokes made it a really fun experience for everyone.”
Despite the fun atmosphere put on by the cast for the majority of the show, they were forced to get serious for the very end of the plot. Following the Bible exactly, Judas betrays Jesus by turning him over to be crucified for 30 pieces of silver. Before his execution, the rest of Jesus’s disciples question his teachings as well, and the disciples circle and torment Jesus, causing him to utter pained cries and shouts that left the audience speechless.
After realizing the err in their ways, the disciples individually said heart-wrenching goodbyes to Jesus. Senior Nicolette Naticchione stole the scene as her tearful goodbye to Jesus caused audience members to tear up as well.
“Godspell” concluded with the crucifixion of Jesus and then the disciples carrying his body out of the Black Box Theater while collectively singing “Prepare Ye.”
“I am thrilled with the end result and all of the hard work that the cast put into the show to share the vision that Sarah Jennings and I had,” Drozd said. “‘Godspell’ is all about community, love and simplicity. I think that throughout the process, the cast took their characters’ development to heart and really tried their best to convey those messages during each moment on stage.”
The success of this show hinged not only on the cast’s performance, but also on the set. Composed of wood and metal to create an earthy, natural feel, it was exactly what the set designers envisioned.
“‘Godspell’ is a really special show because each time it’s produced, it’s set somewhere new and the vision is unique,” junior journalism major and set designer Jonathan Edmonson said. “Therefore, myself and my co-set designer, Natalia Byrdak, talked extensively with the directors and collaborated on a vision. They saw the show being set in a park in the middle of a fast-paced city.”
The cast and crew’s hard work paid off in the end, because all six shows wound up completely sold out.
“Everyone put their heart and soul into the production and made it so unique,” Jennings said. “What is so amazing about our show is that we guarantee that you have never, and will never, see a production like ours again, and this is because every person involved put a piece of themselves in the show.”