by Brenda W. Clough
I still remember the electric thrill of seeing Godspell in 1972 — I must have been sixteen. My high school boyfriend took me — it may have been our first date! — at the historical Ford’s Theater in Washington DC. It was the venue’s first show, after its reclamation from a hundred years as a government storage facility, and we sat on folding metal chairs because there had not been enough money to install theater seating. History was being made!
And my other connection to the show is through my alma mater, Carnegie-Mellon University. The theater department there may be the House that Godspell Built, since the show began as a masters’ thesis project. Propelled by CMU alums including composer Stephen Schwartz, the show moved from its first staging by the CMU Music Department to a fixture of musical theater. It’s staged almost continually, a favorite of middle schools and high schools, and this month I caught the community theater production at the NextStop Theatre Company in northern Virginia.
One of the huge strengths of this show is how it’s rooted in acting exercises. Improv, rooting through costume bins, wedging in the unique talents of whatever actors you have on hand — the NextStop production kept all these charms, which sometimes get lost in bigger productions. You can play the violin? Super, we’ll wedge in a solo for you in the middle of your number! It makes every production different and charming. This one has it all, and in the small space that this show shines in: pure high-octane theater!