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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Musical ‘Godspell’ opening next week in Neenah

Critic At Large

Riverside Players

Show image.

NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) – Riverside Players will present the musical “Godspell” in nine performances starting next week.

Performances in Riverside Park pavilion are at 8 p.m. July 22-24; 7 p.m. July 25; 8 p.m. July 28-31; and 7 p.m. Aug. 1. Info:  https://www.ci.neenah.wi.us/departments/parks-recreation/riverside-players/.

This is the 65th season of Theatre in the Park. Due to COVID-19 considerations, audience members will be socially distanced and asked to wear a mask.

“Godspell” has been a popular show since arriving off-Broadway in 1971. Composed by Stephen Schwartz with the book by John-Michael Tebelak, the musical is structured as a series of parables, primarily based on the Gospel of Mathew. The parables are interspersed with music set primarily to lyrics from traditional hymns.

“Godspell” has been produced by multiple touring companies and myriad theater companies. The 2011 revival played on Broadway from Oct. 13, 2011, through June 24, 2012.

The Riverside Players cast is made up of the following local actors: Chelsey Burke, Kyle S. Brauer, Matt Kierzek, Kate Michel, Amanda A. Petersen, Ericka Wade, Kadie Smith, Larissa Petersen, Patrick O’Donnell and Katana Talen Goss.

Amanda A. Petersen, who is co-directing with J Alan, offers insights into the Riverside Players’ production.

“Tackling ‘Godspell’ a second time, I wanted to dig into the original idea for the show,” Petersen says. “‘Godspell originated in a time of social unrest and community division, when young people were finding it difficult to understand and trust the older generations, and vice versa. Emerging from the pandemic and our own period of social discord, the musical’s origins seemed especially relevant to me.
“John-Michael Tebelak actually came up with the idea for ‘Godspell’ after attending an Easter Mass and being asked to leave due to his long hair and scruffy appearance – he was even frisked and searched by a policeman on his way out. He felt frustrated and angered by this, as his own upbringing had led him to know Jesus as a leader who opened the doors of his community to people from all levels of society, even those considered outcasts, and who spread messages of love, such as praying for your persecutors, standing up for what is right, and helping those in need. Tebelak later recounted that the experience on Easter made him want to create something with ‘the simple, joyful message that I felt the first time I read [the gospels]’ and to ‘recreate the sense of community’ he had hoped to find in attending mass.

“Researching the show’s background really brought Tebelak’s original concept into focus for me in the form of a question borrowed from a song popular when I was a kid: what if God was one of us? And digging even deeper than that, if the Messiah showed up today, would we recognize them if they didn’t look like all the religious iconography we’re familiar with? What kind of community would be created by such a leader today? So while our ‘Godspell’ may look and sound a little different than what folks are used to – and not only because we’re including the ‘Prologue/Tower of Babel’ opening number, which is often cut – we hope that folks will leave with the same important take-away messages in their hearts and toe-tapping tunes in their heads after seeing the show!”

Riverside Players combines municipal sponsorship, community involvement and scenic environment – setting it apart from any other community theater in Wisconsin. Riverside Players “Theatre in the Park” began in 1955.

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