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Modern-day Jesus:

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City Stage • 21 N. Front St.
4/7-10, 15-17, 22-24 and 29-5/1
Shows at 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$18 •

Cast of ‘Godspell’ prepares for opening this Thursday night at City Stage. Courtesy photo

Written in 1970 by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, “Godspell” prospered into one of the most popular stage productions around the globe. Theatre classes in high schools and colleges, as well as  professional stages enacted it everywhere. By no means is it an obscure musical.

Opening this Thursday at City Stage, appropriately in time for Easter (April 24), theatre-goers have a chance to be moved by its powerful message. With a cast of 10 (Cameron Miles Young as Jesus, Adam Poole as John the Baptist, Morganna Bridgers as Mary Magdalene to name a few), they lead us through the last seven days of Christ’s life.

This story, modernized by its director, William Day, is of a young guy who puts everything on the line and tries to teach people how to be nicer and more understanding—how to live better in essence. Updates to the show include Facebook references and even a Justin Bieber-like character. The audience will be a part of a flow of parables, which eventually lead to a struggle and waves of emotion.

“One of the things I love about this show is that the audience goes with it,” Day says, “because it’s hard not to. By the end of the first act, everyone is along for the ride.” Day kindly took time out from the busy rehearsal schedule to give us a sneak peek of his version of the production.

e: What drew you to directing “Godspell”?
WD: I’ve been in the show before, but I’ve never directed it. City Stage is a smaller, more intimate venue, and I wanted to direct a smaller musical. So they sold me on “Godspell.”

I tend to gravitate toward shows that you can reinvent and be creative with. The show is very dated, early ‘70s, with references to the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. I’ve replaced those with [references like] Lady Gaga, and there’s even a section where we do a parable with Super Mario video games. If you make it your own and add things to it, it becomes a great experience. The central story line just hasn’t been told this way before.

e: Tell readers about the cast and their roles.
WD: I’ve formed characters each representing a different stereotype. [For example], Mary Magdalene is made up of everything unappealing to the modern-day woman. I wanted to be as real as possible. . . . I wanted to do what everyone thinks about; everyone judges everyone. It’s just human nature. I wanted to explore that, put it out there—wanted people to see the show and not just be shocked but intrigued. Usually in this show people use their real names, but since they are playing stereotypes, I let the actors make up names on their own.

e: I read the musical is based primarily on the 1964 film “The Gospel According to St. Matthew.”
WD: It’s billed as that but not all of it. I am not a very religious person, but I do believe this story. I don’t know how it exists or how it was written, but it paints Jesus as a real person. He has several flaws. Everyone can identify with the role of Jesus in this musical.

e: Though it’s a religious play, it has a reputation of appealing to almost everyone, correct?
WD: It’s one of the most popular plays done in local theatres because it’s a universal story that everyone can identify with. I wanted to put the question out there of what it would be like if Jesus was in our modern-day society, what if he were someone who lived today. How would we react? What would he look like? How old would he be? I decided to make him a young Justin Bieber type, who starts saying things that no one else is saying and starts teaching philosophies. People started following [Jesus] because he was a leader.

e: How do you think people will react to your choice of making Jesus so young?
WD: We’re not going away from the story, we’re still telling it. That’s the most important thing about “Godspell.” We haven’t forgotten to do that. How will church-goers see it? I don’t know. How I’ve chosen to do the show goes against some of the things in the Bible. But that’s how I show my art. I’m lucky to have a very open-minded cast who are willing to go along with it.

It’s set in a city where something very traumatic has happened, and everyone has stumbled upon an abandoned movie theatre, where this guy comes and starts teaching the parables. It’s ironic that a young, boy-band kid is like, ‘I have the answers.’ It’s symbolic of what today’s society is like.

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