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Updated 1970s Musical Carries Timeless Message

Naomi Rose-Mock

A revived and updated version of a message musical from the 1970s is set to take the stage in Tallahassee next week. 

For those who were alive and sentient when it first appeared in mid-1971, the musical Godspell harkens back to a very specific and odd time. Bell bottom jeans had yet to go mainstream. Some disgruntled casualties of the counter-culture found the Lord and became “Jesus Freaks.” And that environment spawned the off-broadway production of Godspell, full of parables and passages from the book of Matthew put to a pre-disco beat that sounds painfully quaint today. But Tallahassee’s upcoming Godspell production is not your grandparents’ Godspell. Even though Scott Hunter who plays “Judas” in the local production, said the core communication of the show is timeless.

“I believe that the message of Jesus is relevant to any generation,” he remarked as rehearsals for the production were continuing. “It’s about love and passion and compassion towards others and understanding that it’s not all about us; that Jesus came to teach that it’s about love and loving your neighbor as yourself and loving your God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength. So I don’t think that message ever disappears.”

Hunter is a bit more familiar with the message than many. His day job is lead pastor of Tallahassee’s Genesis Church. But he said the more recent revival of the show swept aside all the dated trappings of the original to make it resonate with today’s audiences.

“What has changed with this production is the way that it’s seen. Everything that is now current to our generation is being portrayed in this production and it doesn’t feel like the 70s anymore. It has been revamped in 2012 and it definitely screams, ‘Hey! This is a current, modern production that speaks to where you’re at and it is relevant and relatable!’”

Another principal cast member in the Tallahassee Godspell is Tallahassee Community College Sophomore Cameron Casey who has the role of “Jesus.”

“Well one thing that I think Godspell does really great is that it doesn’t really focus on Jesus’ miracles, but on his teachings and their importance; the things that he says to get them to understand that they should be a community and a group and should be looking at their differences, not as weaknesses, but as strengths. And I think that message goes throughout the whole show.”

Scott Hunter, religious leader though he may be in real life, also insisted that one need not be a Christian believer to be moved by Godspell.

“Everyone can deal with hurt, because everbody’s been hurt. Everyone can deal with sacrifice, because at some point in your life you’re going to have to sacrifice something for someone else and to understand that there’s a bigger picture than just your world. And everyone can relate to compassion. And that’s what Jesus shows and what is shown in this production and it’s just a relatable message to each and every person because you can take away something from every individual character.”

In fact, Hunter believed the central message of the musical may have particular urgency for today.

“Maybe the way right now we’re treating everybody in America with social media blasting each other, ripping people apart, getting on this political divided garbage, and letting that be the focus of our life, maybe that’s not quite where we really need to be. Maybe we need to shift towards loving other people and realizing that there’s so much more out there than this hate and division. And that God brings us a message of unity and maybe we need to be unifiers in our nation right now.”

The Tallahassee Godspell production will be staged “in the round” at Faith Presbyterian Church. Cameron Casey says this gives his character “Jesus” a face-to-face connection with the audience as well as the players.

“When I’m telling these stories and looking at the characters on stage, I’m making eye contact with the audience,” he said. “I’m telling the stories straight to them and letting them know what these messages are and how they can affect their lives.”

That, combined with all the freshening in the script and music has stretched cast and crew beyond what they thought possible, said both Casey and Hunter.

“It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s been quite a feat to get this going in the theatre-in-the-round and Naomi Rose-Mock is definitely a brilliant director and super-creative person. So this is going to be something that people have seen here in Tallahassee,” said Hunter as Casey nodded assent.

Godspell The Musical will be staged in the fellowship hall of Faith Presbyterian Church on Meridian Road September 26th through 28th and October 3rd through 5th at 7:30 each evening.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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