CAST & Godspell
“The beauty of ‘Godspell’ is what is happening under the surface. There’s a lot going on!” wrote Anna Street, director of the play that has toured the USA Eastern Territory this summer. “What has captured my imagination most are the small but significant moments of realization, revelation, connection, tension, and recognition.”
Street saw “Godspell” as an invitation to the audience and members of CAST to personally engage and respond to Christ’s challenge from Matthew 16 where He asks, “Who do you say that I am?”
During their tour, which covered venues from Manhattan’s Theatre 315 to Montclair Citadel in New Jersey to the Dayton, Ohio Kroc Community Center to downtown Boston, Mass., audiences responded with visible expressions of love.
Sarah Peabody, an acoustic guitar player in the band, said, “The audience was involved. I saw their faces; the laughter, the tears, the genuine concern. I could see how the show was moving people. That was cool to see.”
Marcos Lopez, bass player, enjoyed traveling the territory. “It can be a great motivator to get this type of ministry up and running. Interacting with people to provide this kind of service—that’s what excited me the most.”
A Christian production
‘Godspell,’ which debuted on Broadway in 1971, has since appeared on numerous stages and has had several revivals. However, CAST’s all–Christian, ministry–focused production is unique.
Peter Kochanek, who played John the Baptist and Judas, said, “We had the opportunity to do it with other believers. It’s going to help us in the future and in our performances. The likelihood of us doing it with other believers again is probably pretty low, based on the theater and arts world. We had this experience and it gave us so much more.”
Hannah Furman, a member of the ensemble, agreed. “We got to do it with a much deeper meaning and believe that it’s real. It was great to share the Gospel in a deeper and more colorful way and to show our true spirit through worship.”
Perhaps the moment when most CAST members answered the question “Who do you say I am?” came when each one said “goodbye” to Jesus. The question was just one of several that demanded a closer and deeper examination of their personal relationship with Christ. It was a moment that transcended mere “acting” and reached an extraordinary level of spirituality.
For Skyela Bussey, an ensemble member, an oversight led to her embrace of God’s forgiveness. “When I said, ‘goodbye,’ I felt awkward because I had lost an item I was to give to Jesus. But the way Ryan Livingston [Jesus] reacted to me was so brilliant.
“When I tried to give it back to Him but couldn’t, He accepted me and forgave me anyway. That wasn’t in the script. It touched me because I thought, how many times do I lose things that Jesus gives me? It was so real.
“I saw Ryan surrender his own self; not to ‘acting’ like Jesus, but to letting Jesus portray Himself through him. It showed me that God was going to work amazing things through the show.
“We’ve experienced things—the stress of just 10 days to prepare, the tiredness, and the intense emotions—that revealed how the devil really hated this. But we went through it anyway because we work for God.”
Director Anna Street had asked Eric Hawkins the question, “what would you say to Jesus if you knew you would see Him for the last time?” “It really hit me hard because, a year ago, I lost my brother,” he said. “I never got to see him before he died. In those last moments, I didn’t know what to do.
“In ‘Godspell,’ I tried to figure out what my character should do in that instance when he says, ‘goodbye’ to Jesus. That’s when I bawled my eyes out. It reminded me of my life. It seemed as though I was talking to my brother, Jesus, and God, all right there. I just lost it. If I could ever get that moment back with my brother or my grandfather or anyone else I have ever lost, I would take it in a heartbeat.”
Lucas Urbina explained that “goodbye” moment from his perspective. “That spiritual/magical moment when each character had his or her ‘goodbye’ with Jesus was sentimental. Our leaders encouraged us to look at that scene and ask, ‘what would I do if Jesus was actually right there?’ Some of us were speechless and didn’t quite know what to do. Some hugged him, others fell to their knees and just surrendered everything. That moment just opened my eyes in a special way.”
Urbina, who had come to CAST wondering if he would make the cut, had been overwhelmed by the love and support he received. “I come from a competitive environment when it comes to the arts because I am in New York City,” he said. “So, I’m thinking, I’m good, but how far can I really get with this?” Urbina said he received so much love from the group that, in just five days, he had fallen in love with them. “I thought, yes, I am worth it. I can do this!
“The world is suffering so much pain. So being in the same place with people who are encouraged to see The Light makes me want to give God all I have. We are all worth it and we are all pointing towards Jesus.”
“It became personal for me,” said Megan Pentland, “when I imagined seeing Jesus for the last time and Anna said, ‘make it real for yourself.’ I had to stop and think about it. It was a hard moment to get through because I had grown to love Jesus—on stage and in real life, but I didn’t think I had given enough of myself to Him. As I said ‘goodbye,’ I realized that I couldn’t play games and have fun with Him anymore. It changed how I portrayed my character in the play and who I am in life.”
Pentland, who traveled all the way from Ireland to perform with CAST, continued, “It’s a completely personal story for me now. I would rather be honest and show people that it’s real, it’s legit, and that it’s not just a story. I think that moment triggered something in all of us. It was so emotional.”
Pentland believes those precious moments happened for a reason. “I said to Hannah, “something’s going to break, it’s going to blow.” Pentland prayed for God to take control. “He knew we needed a break,” she said. “It’s as if He was saying, ‘I know you’re struggling, but I’m going to help.’ He was there and it was completely Spirit led.”
Kochanek said the audience sensed his portrayal of the tragic figure Judas was unique. “One thing the show does not do is vilify him right out of the gate, which is different from a lot of the interpretations of this messianic story,” he said. “There’s a song in the show called “All for the Best,” a really high–energy, fun number, and classic Broadway–show tune. I sensed that the audience saw Judas just like all the other guys. So when he betrays Jesus, it’s all the more heartbreaking because, in the beginning, he was along for the fun. He wanted to learn as much as he could, but fell from what he believed in.
“He was a man who made choices that led ultimately to the crucifixion of Christ. That’s not to say that I’m trying to vindicate him, but, in terms of audience reaction, they saw Judas; a real person who was used for hurtful reasons.”
In addition to audience reactions, members of the band also shared moments of emotion and reflection. Zachary Smith Michaels, band leader, was surprised to discover how “Godspell” spoke to him personally. “We practiced all day and then at the end, we got to come up and see what the cast had been working on. Every time I watched it, I got totally invested in what was happening, sucked into it, to the point where I’d miss cues. I didn’t expect that because I’m so laser–focused on what I have to do in the band. So, I had those moments where I could sit back and watch these people who I’ve grown to love as they ministered on such a deep and personal level to me.”
Excited about ‘Godspell’
“This year, we had such a great story and it’s so exciting to see how excited [kids] are to see productions like this,” said Alexis Duperree from the ensemble and who was in CAST last year. Bussey said, “What excited me most about ‘Godspell’ was working in a group of people who were from different places and who had different talents and skills. It opened my mind.” Shante Christina Wong said, “What I loved was the way we were so open and inclusive. It’s a great, lovely group of people. I’m so glad I met all of them.”
by Warren L. Maye