Godspell at Philadelphia Seminary a hit

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The cast of GodspellWhen seminarian Kat Steinly opened The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia’s (LTSP) production of Godspell (December 7 and 8, 2012) with her rendition of “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” I was transported for a moment to the time some 40 years ago when my wife Lynn and I saw the original production of the memorable musical on the New York stage. 

How did the presentation of the hit musical on the LTSP chapel “stage” compare to the New York original? In a few words, it was riveting, remarkable, poignant — mixed liberally with humor as the players interacted with their audience of friends, family, and the seminary community seated in the round. The musical, conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, was not then — or now — “a play for the inhibited,” as cast member Professor Katie Day, one of the disciples, said on the program cover. Jesus was sporting suspenders and a Superman shirt once more. But the LTSP production was a reminder of the timeless power of Matthew’s Gospel for any context and for all the ages.

It may have been true, as seminarian and artistic director Josiah Armstrong said in his introduction, that some in the cast were seasoned performers and some were not — it didn’t show. OK, the musical performance of Armstrong on “All Good Gifts” stood out, as did musical solos by Liz Brunton (disciple), Steinly (John the Baptist and Judas), Elyssa Salinas (disciple), and the wonderful piano accompaniment by Mark David Johnson. Moose Flores delivered a sterling portrayal of Jesus trying through his teaching, and often in vain, to bring his followers along — but the work of the entire cast deserves the richest plaudits. How did they pull this off in the midst of their end-of-semester work as students, faculty, and staff? How did the musical present so well in a venue of limited resources? And how will those who didn’t or couldn’t attend forgive themselves for missing it? Perhaps Prof. Day explained the company’s success best while handing out munchies to the audience during intermission: “We’re having a blast.” And all proceeds from the performance are going to LTSP mission projects.

Other fine performances were delivered by Brett Betkoski, Jacqui Good, Julie Recher, and Professor Storm Swain as disciples. Accompanist Carmine Pernini was on bass. Mark David Johnson was musical director. Choreographers were Flores and Armstrong. Alina Gayeuski was producer/house manager. Kathleen Harris was prop mistress/assistant producer. Dan Purtell was lighting tech. The hospitality coordinator was Jennifer Soltis with Joanna Hertzog and Shelby Wyland on the hospitality team. Mary Hansen-Joyce was head usher. Sara Calderon, Lori Anne Kirk, Linda Manson, Carl Rabbe and Jim Ziebell were ushers. Ticket sales were by Jessica Maske; Tim Ness, Daniel Spigelmyer and Wyland managed publicity.

Special financial support for the performances came from faculty members Dr. Swain, Dr. Jon Pahl, and the Rev. Dr. Claudio Carvalhaes, along with LTSP alumni the Rev. Rodney Smith (MDiv 2012) and Sarah Clausen (MDiv 2010).

- Mark Staples

watch a slide show from Godspell