Like its 1970s compadre, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell” focuses on Jesus as seen through a 20th-century rock score.
Unlike “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell” focuses on Jesus’s teachings more than the drama of the last days of his life. Its title is a throwback to the Anglo-Saxon word “godspell,” meaning “good news,” and the musical gives Jesus the chance to teach a group of his passionate followers through his parables, mostly but not exclusively taken from the Gospel according to Matthew.
As part of its 50th anniversary season, South Valley Civic Theatre will present “Godspell” as its teen musical, starring Andy Gonzalez as Jesus, Charlie Grimm as John the Baptist and Sean O’Connor as Judas.
“At first I was like, Jesus, OK, this is going to be big shoes to fill,” said Gonzalez, a recent Sobrato High School graduate who came to acting only a couple of years ago when he performed in Sobrato’s production of “Rent.” After appearing in SVCT’s adult production of “Follies,” he was invited to audition for “Godspell,” thanks to his big voice.
“He auditioned with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which fit perfectly with the kind of music ‘Godspell’ has,” said director Megan Griffin. “He has a beautiful voice and a sweet demeanor.”
“Usually Jesus is portrayed as very stoic,” said Gonzalez, who sports an impressive afro. “You never see him playful or angry.”
Producer Michelle Griffin (Megan’s mother) described the cast of 19 teenagers ages 12-19 as “interfaith.”
Megan said she plans to incorporate more of her Catholic theology into the song “On the Willows,” to make it more of a Passion Play with stations of the cross and Jesus’s resurrection addressed more directly than in some productions.
The show, by composer Stephen Schwartz, opened off-Broadway in 1971 with a folk music score; its 2011 revival on Broadway offered a more soft-rock experience, said Michelle, whose own love for the show dates back to her days in Catholic school, where a “modern nun” sang the show’s best-known song, “Day By Day.”
“That’s a big part of my makings as a Catholic,” she said.
The show is a challenge for its teen cast, said Megan. First of all, everyone in the cast is onstage throughout the show. And the music sometimes runs to seven-part harmonies.
SVCT has produced the show twice before. In planning the 50th anniversary season, audience polls showed “Godspell” as “a very strong favorite,” said Michelle.
The cast will be wearing ’70s-era hippie clothing, with Gonzalez in all white as Jesus. The action takes place in a park with a swing set and slides.SVCT’s ‘Godspell’ runs Feb. 8-March 2 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey St. Tickets $16-$25. For tickets and information, visit svct.org.