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Randall Theatre opens 'Godspell'

"Godspell" was an unexpected hit when it opened off-Broadway in the spring of 1971. No one thought that a rock musical based on the parables and life of Jesus Christ would take the country by storm.

But "Godspell" ran off-Broadway for more than 2,000 performances, moved to the Great White Way for another 527, and many of its songs became pop music standards. Since then, "Godspell" has been staged around the world.

Randall Theatre Company will open "Godspell" on Aug. 1 at its Randall Theatre, 10 E. Third St., Medford. An opening night reception with a brat and Polish sausage barbecue and beverages will begin at 6:30 p.m. The show will follow at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $20.

Other performances are set for 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Aug. 7-9 and Aug. 14-16, and 1 p.m. Sundays Aug. 3, 10 and 17. Reserved seats cost $15. Pay-what-you-want tickets are available 30 minutes before shows. Flex passes and group rates also are available.

The Randall production will feature an updated script that includes contemporary references and a score orchestrated to a more modern sound. Randall's artistic director, Robin Downward, stars as Jesus, and Bob Herried directs.

"Godspell," written by John Michael Tebelak with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, begins with the proclamation of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist and, through musical vignettes, follows Jesus through his ministry as the characters act out the parables and tell the story of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Many of the lyrics were taken from traditional hymns.

Downward describes "Godspell" as a musical about love, understanding and forgiveness.

"This play is not a literal Bible text," Downward says. "It should be taken as a story with meaning and a message. It is about the principles that we all should be living by — love thy neighbor as yourself.

"This version, from the 2011 Broadway revival done by Stephen Schwartz, has a fresh and contemporary feel," Downward says. "But it still has the heart and soul of the original. 'Godspell' has just as much to say now as it did when it first opened."

The cast includes Michael Williams in the roles of John the Baptist and Judas, along with Nat Dalbec, Deborah Downward, Kathy Wing, Meagan Kirby, Christina Ferrari, Brianna Gowland and Rigo Jimenez.

Deborah Downward choreographs, and music direction is by John Taylor, who will appear on stage playing keyboard.

Downward says he's wanted to do "Godspell" at Randall since the theater opened but it was only now, with the recent technical upgrades — an LED lighting system and cordless microphones — that he felt the time was right.

"This is the most technical show we've done so far," Downward says. "This show has 118 light cues and 27 sound cues, and the set is bare-bones. We want to give the feeling that everything in the story is happening right here, right now."

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

The cast of Randall Theatre's production of 'Godspell.'