Prepare ye the way of “Godspell”

Choreographer Taylor Puc watches the cast of “Godspell” rehearse in Reeves Theater. Photo courtesy of J.Scharer.

Seton Hill’s Student Theatre Activities Council will take the stage this spring to perform playwright John-Michael Tebelak’s “Godspell.”

The production is entirely student-run, including some graduate students, and is directed by senior theatre performance major James Scharer, alongside music director and senior music education major Sam Burns and choreographer and junior musical theatre major Taylor Puc.

“This is the first time where all of us are doing something of this scale,” Scharer said. “This is something that we have ambition for and that the work they’re doing is worth it.”

“Godspell,” featuring music by Grammy and Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz, follows Jesus as he teaches a series of parables to the rest of the cast through song and dance. The second act tells the story of his crucifixion.

STAC voted to perform “Godspell” against competitors such as “Mr. Burns, a Post Electric Play” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The cast and crew have been rehearsing since the end of spring break.

“I enjoy the idea of community with it,” Scharer said. “It’s really strong in the piece itself and I think it’s fascinating how the guy who plays Jesus [Robert Tramontina], he creates this community of people. He brings all of these crazy characters together. Then, all of a sudden, when the tone shifts, he separates himself from them. Then, he proves to them ‘I’ve taught you all these things, you don’t need me to continue to be a community.’ I think that’s really reminiscent today. You don’t really need a leader so long as you have good teachings to actually be supported.”

Bobby Tramotina, center, plays Jesus Christ. Photo courtesy of J.Scharer.

“For me, the music portion of that really justifies that response,” Burns said. “A lot of the music in the show, the songs talk about bringing people together. The parables are spoken within the music. The songs just fit really well together. I tell my cast all the time that you have to have a sense of ensemble togetherness. The music just has to be so connected to resemble that community and they do a good job with it.”

“Even in the choreography, a lot of it is spreading the teachings of God through their dancing,” Puc said. “If you even just listen to the songs, I would find myself like ‘okay, this is your positivity going around. You’re going around to each different person and bringing them up. A lot of their movements at certain points are just partying with each other, just to build that sense of unity, and they even let the audience into it too.”

Theatergoers should expect a lot of “audience participation.” STAC will be performing the 2012 revival version, so there will be more modern references and contemporary music. The pit, which is about five students, includes electric guitars and a full drum set.

“Overall, it’s a lot of fun,” Scharer said. “Definitely songs that will stick in your head whenever you leave. Also, a twist. Because that’s something I found interesting with the script is that it literally 180s itself within the first act. It’s so happy and cheerful, and it builds the sense of community. And then all of the sudden, when the second act starts, it turns itself on its head, much like even how the actual story of Jesus gets turned on its head.”

“Godspell” first made its off Broadway debut in 1971. The show features songs such as “Day by Day,” “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” “Learn Your Lessons Well,” “All for the Best” and “By My Side.”

“To put everything that we have learned throughout our four years here and put it into a production like this, I hope people will walk away with a sense of ‘wow, that’s what students here can do with what they’re given,’” Burns said.

Robert Tramontina stars as Jesus Christ, and Travis Miller as John The Baptist and Judas Iscariot. The ensemble features Layne Lueckert, Tasha Marie Matthews, Leah Prestogeorge, Azaria Oglesby, Adam Sarp, Riley Tate, Hannah Taylor, Anna Strauser, Nicole Castelli, Kristina Lindauer, Halle Polechko and Eric Carter.

“They’re the future actors and singers and dancers going into the real world,” Puc said. “I want the stigma of being a student show to come away. I want the audience to just walk into this production, enjoy it and come out saying, ‘wow, that’s a really great show.’”

The performances run May 3 at 8 p.m., May 4 at 9 p.m. and May 5 at noon in Reeves Theater.

“A lot of the times, especially in a school setting, we do theatre and yeah, that’s work,” Scharer said. “But to many people, this is an extracurricular activity. This is fun, so don’t make it work. You’re out here to play. The more that you play, the more you discover. Preparing for opening night, I find myself enjoying it more. It kind of reaffirms for me that this is in good shape. Our work is almost done, this is in the cast’s hands.”

“If I want to give a shoutout, it would be more to the cast and the musicians and the behind the scenes,” Burns said. “They do a lot more work than people think.”

Admission for SHU students is $5, and general admission is $7. E-mail to reserve tickets in advance or purchase tickets at the door.

“Godspell” student choreographer and directors, from left to right: Taylor Puc, Sam Burns and James Scharer. Photo by H.Carnahan/Setonian.

What’s your inspiration?

Burns: Composer Stephen Schwartz and Led Zeppelin
“I’ve seen those musicals and I really liked the music. I thought they were fun to sing along to, but now that I’ve started to work with the show, when I did a score analysis of it and just picking it apart. There’s so much thought that’s put into this. He’s really been my inspiration as to how can I make this sound as if he’s the conductor of the pit, as I am now for this musical?”

Puc: Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler
“I had to do research for a couple of my school projects and in his work he said that one of his biggest goals is to make the choreography mean something to the characters and to the audience I find myself going into this process telling the actors to make the choreo mean something. I’ve also been thinking about how the dance fits the music. Find yourself being taken by the music and by the movement, and then it will make it so much more heightened.”

Scharer: Composer Stephen Sondheim and rock ‘n’ roll
“The way he writes musicals is just so raw, and it’s really at the depth of the characters that he writes for. Especially you see it in ‘Sweeney Todd.’ I come from a rock ‘‘n’ roll background. I was raised on ‘80s hair metal, so finding and looking at places where we can tie the two together, there’s such an energy about it. That really helps tell the story and bring it to life.”

Published By: Paige Parise

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