It’s an old story you’ve probably heard before, all about passion, betrayal and undying love.
But you’ve never seen it like this.
Ralston High School’s spring musical “Godspell” will take on Steven Schwartz’s dramatic rendition of the biblical Gospel of Matthew, placing the action in the here and now, among a group of wayward teens living on the streets and surviving by their wits.
The show, first staged off Broadway in 1971, has been done in themes ranging from flower children to clowns to combat units. The show, RHS drama director Todd Uhrmacher said, has ebbed and flowed with each successive generation who undertakes to put it on the stage.
“It’s a very bizarre show,” Uhrmacher said. “But it’s always spoken to the generations. I think people identified with it because it’s not heavily church-doctrinaire. When it was first done, you had hippies doing face painting in the aisles before the show.”
Bringing “Godspell” into the post-industrial age of alienation, the RHS set will look like a decaying downtown cityscape.
The actors will wear modern threads and look, act and talk like the teenagers they are.
All the while, they will be conveying a 2,000-year-old story. And one of them will be playing a perfectly divine role.
“I have reflected on it quite a bit,” said senior Ben Allgire, who has the part of Jesus — with the hallmark scruffy beard and flowing brown locks tucked up under a knit cap prove it. “Whenever I deliver my lines, I’m thinking about it. It’s such a loose show, and you’ve always been told Jesus was a wise and profound man. A lot of what he says in this show is poignant and powerful, and I feel there’s a good platform here to really let loose.”
The show focuses on the evolution and sudden devolution of the relationship between Jesus and Judas, played by sophomore Sydney Dorsey, in her first starring role on the Ralston Performing Arts Centre main stage.
The casting of the female Dorsey in the Judas role, she said, has been an interesting study for her.
The contemporary setting of the play has been a good way to explore the Jesus-Judas dynamic and its larger implications in both the gospel and society.
“I think we’re pushing boundaries in good ways,” Dorsey said. “I pretty much play myself in this one, but I step it up a little. There’s more freedom in the way we’re setting this. It’s bigger than a religious show. It’s something that everyone can take a little bit away from, something to think about.”
Through the parables Jesus tells, the actions of his various apostles, the universal truths about suffering and friendship and love, “Godspell” does deliver a salvific punch and its staging in the middle of the Lenten season has been well-calculated.
“I learn something new every night,” Dorsey said. “It’s not something you’re going to get bored with. Every night, there’s something new.”
There’s also the music.
The anthem “Day by Day” has been enshrined in the American pop culture pantheon, and “By My Side” and the playful, evocative “All for the Best” are recognizable ditties.
Like his co-star, Allgire said he finds something powerful in the message and the music that translates well not just for a show about a religious figure, but as a demonstration of the importance of oneness and friendship.
“There are some points of the show that are profound in their own way,” he said. “There are parts that are light and loose, deep and dark. I think this is a show that says something about community. I like it because it’s relatable. Something that happened 2,000 years ago is on the stage for our generation. Jesus, in this show, gets people to believe in love and forgiveness, and that’s a powerful, beautiful thing that everyone can understand.”
“Godspell” opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ralston Performing Arts Centre at RHS, 8969 Park Drive. Saturday performances will include a 2 p.m. matinee and a 7:30 p.m. show. Sunday’s matinee will be at 2 p.m.
For ticketing information or to make reservations, call the RHS box office at 402-898-3545.