May 29, 2024

Gordon’s Godspell: Communion and Community 

Presley Beal 27'

Godspell Cast. Photo Courtesy of Ben Calianga.

Communion? Sure. Public communion? Of course. Communion with the cast and audience members in the middle of a performance? Radical. Surely you have never walked on stage to participate in communion with Jesus before.  

This is the musical Godspell as directed by Norm Jones, shown in Gordon’s Margaret Jensen Theatre—and there’s few productions like it. Audience members sat in the black box theatre watching the live re-creation of modern-day Jesus and his disciples. But they did not just watch; Godspell had various audience-interactive scenes. At one point, cast members broke the fourth wall and invited the audience to walk on stage and place a prayer request into a stone-wall prop.  

The storyline followed the disciples who sing and dance through Jesus’ parables, capturing the essence of a “child-like faith.” The play parallels the book of Matthew though a modern adaptation of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Unlike the original version from the 1970s which surrounds the events of the Vietnam War, Gordon’s retelling of the beloved musical began with broadcast messages reporting the tragedy of 9/11. 

Photo Courtesy of Ben Calianga.

The musical written in the height of war originally resonated with audience members while showcasing themes of peace, community, and working to promote the story of a savior in a time of distress. Still having the same effect today, Godspell is a relevant reinvention of itself. The black box theatre adaptation certainly did not take away from the saturation of colors and the raw emotion of the characters.  

Godspell conjured up and placed into perspective what the disciples in The Bible would have been feeling during Jesus’ three-year ministry. While the three-part story of Christ’s betrayal, his crucifixion, and resurrection is more than familiar to Christians, seeing it in live time allowed the audience to view it with fresh eyes. Charlie Doggett ‘25, one of the disciples, said that the most moving part of the musical was “The Last Supper” scene. He referenced the quiet time the actors had on stage while Jesus experienced temptation saying, “I really just sit there and pray… It’s the one time where I get to calm down and be alone for a second.”  

As for Malachi Dowdell ‘26 in the role of Jesus, “‘By My Side’ is the most moving song.” The song itself represents “the yearning for Jesus to stay… [the disciples] don’t know what’s happening, but Jesus knows He’s not going to physically be by their side anymore, so that’s very emotional.” Dowdell admitted “I can’t help but not–tear up.”  

After the final bow, followed by screams of bliss outside of the show doors, Susannah Burch ‘24, as one the disciples replied to a question about her favorite part of being in the production. “Honestly this,” she waved a hand over the commotion, “the energy. Everyone is so supportive, as you can hear…the cast, the crew, it’s such a good environment.” And it looked as if the energy was gifted to the audience too, as Jesus’ friends handed him flowers and sung Godspell’s most popular rock ballad, “Day by Day.” Burch laughed at the interruption and finished by saying, “I loved everyone in it. The whole play is about community building, and I think we had the perfect cast to do that.” 

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