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‘Godspell’ comes to College Hill, bringing with it community, love, forgiveness

Brown Ensemble! challenges Christianity’s long history of exclusivity

<p>The show provided an interpretation of Christianity that differed from orthodox Christian ideals, which director Marijke Perry ’22 described as “a way of saying that my version of presenting (Christianity) is no less valid than yours.”</p>

The show provided an interpretation of Christianity that differed from orthodox Christian ideals, which director Marijke Perry ’22 described as “a way of saying that my version of presenting (Christianity) is no less valid than yours.”

Jesus steps onto the stage from the back corner. He’s wearing jeans, sneakers and a Patriots t-shirt. He walks a few feet forward, then says almost nonchalantly, “Hey.”

Such is how director Marijke Perry ’22 chose to stage the leading cast member’s big entrance in Ensemble Theatre at Brown’s production of “Godspell.” It’s a colorful, down-to-earth entrance, instilling the son of God with humanity and welcoming the audience to a bright, entertaining and smile-ridden musical.

College Hill’s performance of “Godspell” hit Alumnae Hall Nov. 12 and ran through the weekend. All four shows sold out before opening night. 

The musical is presented as a series of parables told toward the end of Jesus’ life. Judas and other disciples all help him sing, dance and act out — campfire-style — many of Christianity’s most universal lessons. Many of the numbers are ensemble pieces, with the full cast laughing, celebrating and tap dancing in tandem. The entire show, as Perry said, glows with “community, love and forgiveness.” A few audience members were even invited to join in on the fun.

Peter Zubiago ’22, who was one such audience member, was spontaneously called up on stage to fill the role of Lazarus. After reading the bit of dialogue handed to him on a few cards, he acted out dying on stage in front of the entire theater. As Zubiago said, “What more could you ask for?”  

Beyond surprise calls for the audience’s participation in an immersive theater experience, Ensemble Theater strives to create a performance that goes all-out in emotion, character and inclusivity. The cast, Perry said, had to “somehow come in, get the audience to believe that they were all friends and that this was just the kind of thing that wacky friends do if they were able to break into a theater for two hours.”

They ended up proving more than capable — the musical was a welcoming experience to not only the audience but to each actor as well. Actor Madeleine Adriance ’23.5, who played Judas, said that, “The rehearsal room (was) definitely a place where everyone’s ideas were welcome.” She added that the cast was even encouraged to collaborate and come up with their own choreography, explaining that Perry “really wanted us to feel connected to what we were doing on stage and kind of take ownership of it.”

Originally composed by Stephen Schwartz with the book by John-Michael Tebelak, “Godspell” offers space in its unique script for stylistic interpretations by each director and production team. Perry chose to emphasize the moment in the musical when Judas is reaccepted into the community, following the death of Jesus. 

“We’re stronger than the mistakes that we make,” Perry said, referring to Judas’s infamous betrayal. “Judas was as much a member of the community as anyone else.”

Perry’s decisions in directing the musical were informed heavily by their own personal experience. “To be Christian and to be queer in tandem,” they said, “can also lead to someone feeling outside of their own religion.” By choosing to foreground Judas’s welcomed return instead of his betrayal, they again reiterated the values of love, community and freedom of expression present throughout the show. 

“I wanted to make sure that people knew that there was no way we were going to make it through the story while damning someone from the beginning,” Perry explained.

Adriance agreed with this outlook while acknowledging Christianity’s extensive history of exclusion. “This show really goes against that,” she said.

The show presents a different interpretation of more orthodox Christian ideals. The disciples are a hodge-podge of friends dressed in vibrant colors, who all love to tell stories and goof off and see no need to be formal. Jesus and Judas both fit right in, too. “By making them clowns,” said Perry, referring to the play's characters, “it’s not an attempt to mock religion in itself. It is a way of saying that my version of presenting is no less valid than yours.”

The show ends with a return to many of its earlier songs, culminating in bright lights, ear-to-ear grins and the cast hopping off the stage to surround the audience seated on the floor.  Altogether, the room sings about faith as something to be taken “day by day.” 

“I am so incredibly happy and proud of the cast and the crew and for all the work that went into this process,” Perry said. Adriance echoed their warm gratitude, adding that, after a long period of remaining cooped up in their homes, “getting to do this show, that’s such a true ensemble show, was just such a joy.”

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