Tonawanda News — The Good Samaritan. The Prodigal Son. The Sower of the Seeds.
Starting tonight, some of the most iconic stories and images from the world’s most read book, the material of countless sermons and Sunday school classes, will be presented on stage at the Ghostlight Theatre in North Tonawanda as part of “Godspell,” the musical based mostly upon the Gospel of Matthew.
Director Debby Koszelak Swartz said this marks the first time the theater group has taken on this particular musical, which has its challenges.
“The thing about ‘Godspell’ is almost every number is a chorus number,” she said. “Almost all of them are huge numbers, singing and dancing. It’s crazy. It’s a lot of work. But I have an extraordinarily talented cast.”
While “Godspell” tends to be famously open to a director’s interpretation, with dramatically different incarnations depending on setting, cast and other variables, Swartz said that she aimed for a show that would be accessible to the audience.
“The way we approach the show ... We try to make it more audience-friendly, I guess you could say, to make it clear,” she said. “When I saw it years ago, I said, ‘OK, I like the music, but what did we just see?’ There are a lot of well-known parables ... old-time Sunday school favorites.
“We try to make it more friendly, more clear, so that the audience understands what’s going on here. I just tried to make our interpretation extremely understandable.”
The goal is helped by the presence of Swartz’s “extraordinary cast,” led Daniel Torres of North Tonawanda, who plays the role of Jesus in the show.
Torres said it was a challenge to prepare for the role, to bring a central religious figure to life on the stage.
“When I first got the role, I was excited ... and that was the first thing that went through my mind. ‘Oh my God, how do I even reference this?’ “ he said. “You just have to let everything go. That question, ‘what would Jesus do?’ just pops up in every situation.
“It’s been very humbling. You almost have to be the world’s nicest person. ‘How would I want him to act toward me?’ That’s what I learned to do on stage, to keep that attitude in mind.”
Sean Polen of City of Tonawanda, who plays the dual roles of John the Baptist and Judas in the show, was faced with somewhat of a similar-yet-opposite task: How to make one of the Bible’s great villains into a relatable character.
“It’s kind of looking at some kind of way to make Judas likable. ... Why is Jesus hanging out with this guy who is kind of a jerk?” he said. “You want him to have some charisma, like he belongs as part of the group, even though he isn’t.
“I try to make it come across that Judas doesn’t feel he has a choice in doing what he does ... in that he’s stopping somebody he feels is overly radical.”
Both actors cited how “Godspell” can be a very different show depending on who’s directing it, praising Swartz for her vision of the musical
“One of the things I love about this specific ‘Godspell’ is what Debby’s turned it into,” Torres said. “Without giving a lot away, she’s like me, she’s very involved with her faith.
“What she’s turned it into is something fun, you’ll laugh a lot, you’ll feel a lot of emotion going through the whole thing. ... Debby has had this jumping-off point and she’s turned it into something beautiful. It’s an amazing show.”
Polen cited Swartz’s rule for the actors: “Be as comfortable as possible.”
“This is a very, very different Godspell than what most people are used to,” he said. “She went for a little bit more of a different style, which I like.”
For her part, Swartz lauded her cast for their abilities and hard work.
“I have an extraordinary cast of 17 young people from all over Western New York, as far out as Lancaster, and North Tonawanda and Kenmore,” she said. “I was going to only cast 10, but when we held auditions, I thought, ‘I’ve going to widen the net here.’
“They’re an extraordinary ensemble of young people. I think the audience will be extremely impressed with them.”
The show, which runs through Aug. 18, also features Jill Anderson, Beau Bradshaw, Bonnie Carroll, Taryn Darnell, Charles Darrin, Shelby Ebeling, Stephanie Falsone, Sydney Forster, Julia Marino, Alexis Oczowinski, Jordan Quattrini, Katherine Quattrini, Julie Senko, Jackson Trinh and David Wysocki.
Tickets are $17 general admission, $15 for veterans, students and seniors, and can be reserved at www.starrynighttheatre.com or by calling 743-1614.IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Godspell" • WHEN: 7 p.m. tonight; 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Aug. 9, 10, 16 and 17; 2 p.m. Aug. 11 and 18 • WHEN: Ghostlight Theatre, 170 Schenck St., North Tonawanda • TICKETS: $17 general admission, $15 for veterans, students and seniors. Reserve tickets at www.starrynighttheatre.com or call 743-1614. Jill Keppeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.