Based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, “Godspell” deals with the last days of Jesus and includes dramatized versions of several well-known parables.
The musical, however, is something more — a religious experience, a demonstration of joy and a celebration of the family of man.
Jesus’ messages of kindness, tolerance and love come to life as he teaches his ragtag group of common folks how to live and love as they form into a community of his followers with dance and 1970s-era music (often with biblical lyrics) and more than a little silliness in his method.
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For its 39th dinner theater in cooperation with The Pines Evergreen Room south of Seymour, Jackson County Community Theatre is presenting the 1970s hit musical at 6 p.m. Feb. 14, 15, 21 and 22 (dinner shows) and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 16 (nondinner matinee). Tickets are $31 for the dinner shows (reservations required) and $14 for the nondinner matinee.
Kyle Ronchetto, a vicar at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seymour, plays the role of Jesus.
“I really enjoy the fact that I get to put my thoughts into it,” he said. “I see a lot of different portrayals of Jesus in a lot of different movies, and so this is my chance to try to play Jesus the way I think he should be played.”
He said the show is about the community that gets formed around Jesus, his teachings and how that ultimately leads to his death.
“I really like the way that it tells the Gospel story kind of like from a different perspective than what you get in the Gospels because the Gospels are told by Christians to Christians, whereas the story here is told by a cast that doesn’t really know what’s going on to an audience that’s not entirely sure what’s going on,” Ronchetto said. “It makes people rethink a lot of the stories they are used to hearing in church.”
Beginning in 1971, “Godspell” had successful runs off and on Broadway and in theaters all over the world. It was made into a movie in 1977, which was the year of its debut at JCCT. It was presented locally again in 1996.
In 1977, Joel McGill was a member of the cast, and Dick Parman was the music director. This year, McGill is the stage manager, and Parman is in his same role.
“I was the oldest in the cast then, and I’m too old to be in the play (now). The singing and the choreography, it’s a good workout,” McGill said.
He said the show is like reliving the Gospel.
“The whole idea of the community forming around Jesus, that’s what this play is about,” McGill said. “The community is formed from these people that just happened upon each other. They don’t really know each other. They are squabbling and carrying on, and you can just see how it coalesces during the play and they form this community.”
“Godspell” was the first major musical theater offering from three-time Grammy and Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz. It’s led by the international hit “Day by Day” and also features “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” “Learn Your Lessons Well,” “All for the Best,” “All Good Gifts,” “Turn Back, O Man” and “By My Side.”
“The whole musical aspect is hope for the future. Boy, do we need that in these times,” Parman said. “They are introduced to the Gospel and all of the stories, all of the parables. They tell these stories back and forth, and then they’ll act them out a little bit and then sing a song, and then there’s usually a dance involved, too. It’s just uplifting is the best word to describe it.”
Tom Franke plays the roles of John the Baptist and Judas. The other characters — three men and five women — are disciples but go by their own names rather than biblical names.
Franke said he has longed to be in the musical.
“My older sister was in the pit orchestra when the high school that she was at did it. I was a few years younger, and she ended up buying the album, bringing it home, and that was really the first album I loved. I just loved that music,” he said.
When JCCT announced it was doing “Godspell” as this year’s dinner theater musical, Franke said he had to try out because being part of the show was on his bucket list.
“I’ve done a couple before,” he said. “It has been about five years since I did ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ but ‘Godspell’ is just a fun show, and I just wanted to be a part of it.”
When the time came to rehearse the songs, Franke said he already knew all of the words.
“I didn’t know the harmony well, so I had to unlearn some of the melody part and learn the harmony part, but I’ve always loved the music,” he said.
Brinna Sharp plays one of the disciples. She has been in other JCCT productions, but this is her first musical for the Brownstown-based theater.
“I like the costumes and the music,” she said. “It’s got a nice balance of comedic and dramatic moments. There are points where you’re going to cry. Then there are points where you don’t have to cry. It’s good.”
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What: Jackson County Community Theatre’s dinner theater musical production of “Godspell”
When: 6 p.m. Feb. 14, 15, 21 and 22 (dinner shows) and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 16 (nondinner matinee)
Where: The Pines Evergreen Room, 4120 N. U.S. 31, Seymour
Tickets: $31 for dinner shows, $14 for nondinner matinee; tickets are available online at jcct.org or by calling 812-358-5228; reservations are required for the dinner shows; for the nondinner matinee, tickets may be reserved through the website or calling with unsold tickets available at the door
Cast: Addison Bumbleburg, Tom Franke, Lucy Horton, Paul Keller, Elyse McGill, Evan Rohlfing, John Rohlfing, Kyle Ronchetto, Brinna Sharp, Stephanie Strothmann and Corlette Waller
Stage director: Joel McGill
Music director: Dick Parman
Vocal coach: Georgiann Coons
Choreography: Katrina Hardwick
Production manager: Sarah McGill
Band members: Georgiann Coons and Sherri Massengale (keyboards), Dick Parman (guitar), Sarah DeCamp (bass) and Ron Duncan (drums)