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'Godspell' July 7 to 24

Northwestern University SummerStage production celebrates musical’s 40th anniversary

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June 29, 2011 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The joyful 40th anniversary production of “Godspell,” presented this summer at Northwestern University, is a Tony Award-nominated show that holds a special place in musical theatre history. It depicts the story of the life of Jesus Christ, set to contemporary music and dance.

Presented by the Theatre and Interpretation Center (TIC) at Northwestern, the family-friendly production will be performed for a limited three-week engagement from July 7 to 24, at the Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive, on the University’s Evanston campus.

On July 7, TIC will be partnering with the League of Chicago Theatres to host an opening night “Theatre Thursday” event, featuring a post-show discussion and reception with the cast and members of the Northwestern creative team. Following the July 9 performance, Ken Davenport, producer of the upcoming Broadway revival of “Godspell,” will host a complimentary talkback with audience members, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Broadway But Were Afraid to Ask.” In addition, the July 21 evening performance will be sign-interpreted for the hearing impaired.

Playfully combining parables from the Gospel of St. Matthew and other books of the New Testament with lyrics from traditional hymns set to an eclectic score fusing gospel, rock, folk and pop, “Godspell” songs are by four-time Grammy Award-winning musical theatre lyricist and composer Stephen Schwartz. It is based on a book by American playwright John-Michael Tebelak.

Part of TIC’s SummerStage 2011 season, the musical will feature direction by Joseph Jefferson (“Jeff”) Award-winning Dominic Missimi, executive director of the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern; choreography by Matt Raftery; music direction by Ryan T. Nelson; and arrangements and orchestrations by Grammy Award-winning music director and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire.

“The high point of the rock musical era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, ‘Godspell’ is part of the triumvirate of rock musicals which includes ‘Hair’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’” said Missimi. “It tells the story of Jesus and his apostles in a fun way and teaches lessons about love and faith.”

The 450-seat Ethel M. Barber Theater will be transformed into an abandoned urban construction zone with propped up discarded doors leading to makeshift dwellings and a large cart piled with refuse that the musical’s young “homeless” characters use to survive.

In place of the original 1971 rock ‘n’ roll orchestra arrangements, Northwestern’s production will use the modern orchestrations Lacamoire wrote for the show’s 2000 national tour, which include disco, techno and pop music performed live by a six-person orchestra.

The show’s most popular song, “Day By Day,” wound up on Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart for more than three months. Other familiar songs include “O Bless The Lord,” a big gospel number, and “All For The Best,” a vaudeville-style song performed by the duo portraying Jesus and Judas. “Beautiful City,” written for the film version of “Godspell,” has been added to Northwestern’s stage production.

Choreographer Matt Raftery, who recently directed and choreographed “Guys and Dolls” at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, has included some high-voltage percussive “stomp” elements in the dance sequences, which also feature rock ‘n’ roll, disco, techno and hip-hop routines.

The two-hour summer production includes one intermission and features a 13-member cast comprised of Northwestern undergraduate students and two recent graduates. Thirty other students are involved behind the scenes.

“Even a first grader could enjoy this musical because it is alight with color, music and dance,” said Missimi. “It is like going to a Sunday Bible class with a lot more entertainment.”

Single tickets are $25 for the general public; $22 for seniors 65 and older and Northwestern faculty and staff and area educators and administrators; and $10 for full-time students. Discounts are available for groups of eight or more. The “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Broadway But Were Afraid to Ask” post-show discussion with Ken Davenport on July 9 is free and open to the public. To order, phone (847) 491-7282 or visit www.tic.northwestern.edu.