SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Lifestyle

October 10, 2013

Godspell revival

Marblehead Little Theatre actors add their own flair to musical

No matter how many times you go to “Godspell,” you’ll never see the same production twice.

“The script they give us is a raw framework,” said Sarah Sendlbeck, who is directing the musical at Marblehead Little Theatre. “The cast inserts impersonations and characters.”

The story for the musical comes mostly from the Gospel According to St. Matthew, and the music and lyrics were written by Stephen Schwartz, who revised an original work by John-Michael Tebelak.

But as they enact the parables Jesus is telling — the stories that illustrate his message — actors are encouraged to use personal responses.

“What I told my cast was, he’s telling you a story, and the way to tell that story is to relate it to something you’re already familiar with,” Sendlbeck said.

When Jesus shares a parable about a judge, for instance, an actor may impersonate television’s Judge Judy as a way to bring that figure to life.

This freedom ensures that the play, which originally appeared off Broadway in 1971, is always open to contemporary influences and fresh interpretations.

Schwartz enhanced those elements when he revised his score for a revival of “Godspell” that appeared on Broadway in 2012.

This is the version which Marblehead Little Theatre board members Jim Ernst and Bobby Kerrigan are producing in Marblehead.

“It’s all the same songs, but they’ve updated it completely,” Ernst said. “The revised version brings it up to a more Broadway quality. The whole structure of ‘Godspell’ is still there, but it brings a large-show quality to the whole production.”

Sendlbeck, who is married to Ernst and has appeared in “Godspell” four times, said the new version has jazzier harmonies and “a rock edge to it.”

“It’s very similar to the 1970s version but has got a fuller score with more harmonic parts for singers,” she said.

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