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VOL. 125 | NO. 173 | Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Germantown’s ‘Godspell’ Steeped With Everyday Life

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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If You Go

“Godspell” opens Sept. 10 and runs through Sept. 26. Tickets are $23 for adults, $15 for seniors/students and $10 for children ages 12 and younger. Call 754-2680 or visit www.germantowncommunitytheatre.org
to order.

It’s not uncommon for theater directors to couch old standards in new, quirky settings, but when quirks are a play’s hallmark, sometimes simplicity makes for a welcome change.

Such may be the case for Germantown Community Theatre’s 39th season opener, “Godspell,” the extremely versatile retelling of the Gospel of St. Matthew, written by John-Michael Tebeleak with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

“I know people who are incredibly spiritual who are in love with this show and people who are not and still love the show,” said Leslie Barker, a theater teacher at Overton High School and the musical’s director.

“Godspell” is Barker’s third production at Germantown. She most recently directed last season’s “Charlotte’s Web.”

“I think it’s so human,” she said of her latest undertaking. “The premise is finding the joy in these stories and this theology. We really gravitate to that.”

“Godspell” follows Jesus and his disciples through a myriad of parables, visibly illustrated, leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. Traditionally, the show portrays the group as clown figures or hobos, outcasts or rebels in a strict, legalistic society.

Barker’s production will bring the characters to everyday life, though.

“We’re setting it in a bar with a music-hall-type feel like the Hi-Tone,” said Barker. “It’s an open mic night so everyone’s got their songs that they sing. There’s a scene that’s like a blues club and there’s another with a beat poet. It’s a lot of fun.”

Christopher Hanford (John/Judas), from left, Brittney Woods (Joanne) and Timothy Barron (Jesus) join a talented cast to bring Germantown Community Theatre’s season-opening production of "Godspell" to life Sept. 10 through 26. Leslie Barker is the musical's director.
Photo: Courtesy of Germantown Community Theatre

The costumes were designed to reflect present-day common folk in recognizable attire for various personalities, all with the common thread of a red bandana.

Barker said the choreography by Jennie Mittleton may seem somewhat more conceptual to the audience than the Broadway-style dance numbers typically associated with the show.

“I love the rock ’n’ roll feel to it, but there are a lot of big dance numbers too,” Barker said. “I don’t think it’s the typical musical choreography because Jennie and I are bringing a different style to it. She’s a modern dancer. There is some really fun, intricate stuff she’s doing.”

The show will be accompanied by a live band, including guitar, bass and drums.

But one thing that will remain intact is the duality cast by one actor, Christopher Hanford, playing both John the Baptist as well as Judas, who ultimately betrays Jesus to the Romans.

That point spawned controversy when the show was in its early years, although modern audiences accept the conceit as the good and evil in all people.

“There’s a connection between (John and Judas) through the whole show,” said Barker. “I’m not exactly sure what (Tebeleak) was thinking, but to me, it’s a very consistent connection. (John) was someone Jesus loved very much and he turns into Judas, whom Jesus also loved very much, who betrayed him. The shift is very interesting to me.”

Jesus Christ is played by Timmy Barron, an actor from Kentucky who came in especially for the production. Nicholas Fisher, Jason Gerhard, Michael Beyl, Julie Marshall, Nicole Batson, Brittney Woods, Janice Allen, Julie Reinbold, Kailen Hughes, Morgan Baltz and Mollye McDaniel round out the cast of rough-shod, parable-performing disciples.

“I think ‘Godspell’ is for the whole family,” Barker said. “It’s fast-paced, but I think even if kids aren’t getting everything, it’s a storytelling show full of parables all put in your face with movement and visual imagery, so there’s something they can take from it.”

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