Think you have to go into NYC to catch a Broadway-caliber performance? Think again. Now in their second season, ACT of CT in Ridgefield is bringing a brand new re-imagined version of GODSPELL right to Fairfield County. I’m a self-proclaimed Stephen Schwartz fan girl. From Pippin to Wicked to the lesser-known Children of Eden, I love it all. But, in my 20+ years of theatre, even I have a difficult time believing that I’ve never seen a full production of Godspell (Of course, I performed in several songs in my college show choir days! “We Beseech Thee” and “All Good Gifts” were a couple favorites).
When I found out ACT of CT had invited Fairfield County Moms Blog back for their production of Godspell, I jumped at the chance to attend. Not only are their productions outstanding, but this was also a Stephen Schwartz show I’d never seen. And I knew exactly who I wanted to ask to come along, as one of my best friends is a huge fan of the show. He pointed me to Carol De Giere’s book, The Godspell Experience. In it, there is a particular quote regarding community: Not just the community of the actors on stage, but that of the audience, as well. This particular quote stuck with me, and I was really hoping I’d come away from this production feeling like I was a part of their community.
While I was doing a little research before seeing this show, I was told I could send a few questions over to Daniel C. Levine, the Artistic Director, and one of the founders of ACT of CT. I carefully pondered over what I wanted to ask this Broadway veteran. When I read the answers back, I learned so much about how Mr. Levine conceived this new version and how he was inspired by his love for old theatres and churches.
This version of Godspell begins in an old church in Manhattan that is scheduled for demolition the next day. Little do the architects and realtors know that this church has been the home to a group of homeless children and adults for several months. Scenic Designer Reid Thompson, Lighting Designer Jack Mehler, and Props Designer Abigail Bueti accomplished the look and feel of an old abandoned church quite beautifully. From the gothic columns to the stained glass windows, from the lanterns that rose up with the opening chords to the scaffolding that was expertly used for staging throughout the production, the entire design team made sure the audience would be fully immersed in our very own Godspell “experience.”
Below, I have included an excerpt of my interview with Mr. Levine:
In Carol De Giere’s book “The Godspell Experience,” she quotes Mr. Schwartz as saying, “There’s something hard to describe about the ‘Godspell’ experience. When the show is performed correctly, the audience becomes part of the show and thus part of the community that is being formed at every performance. When that happens, it can be transformative for the audience.” Without giving too much away, are you able to comment on this and how you’re able to create that sense of community for the audience with your interpretation?
With this particular version of Godspell, it was important for me to certainly include the audience. This is going to be an immersive experience, meaning that actors will directly connect with audience members and even, at times, leave the stage and enter audience territory. Carol’s quote in her book is correct. This show is the most successful when the audience feels as transformed as the characters do, and that is certainly something that I am respecting in our new version of the show.
How do you choose which shows you want to produce?
In terms of choosing a season, we begin our selection about a year before that specific season. We try to incorporate shows that would be of interest to our patrons: well-known titles, big Broadway hits, and some lesser-known and lesser-produced musicals. It’s my goal as artistic director of ACT to introduce the audience to shows that they might not be aware of or shows they have heard of but never seen, as well as shows that they love and want to see again.
What do you hope people take away from this production?
I want people to walk away from this show feeling changed, and that might mean feeling inspired or feeling open-hearted or even just feeling less stressed from everything that is going on in the world today. I think that our show has a compelling message. It reminds us to be kind to one another and to try to step out of ourselves. While it is about biblical stories and parables, I don’t find it to be a particularly religious show. The message is one of love and friendship and kindness and brotherhood.
This production of Godspell did not disappoint.
Even though the show begins quietly, the first strike of the drums injected me with so much energy. Not surprisingly, the talent in this production blew me away. Trent Saunders as Jesus was perfection, and the rest of the adult ensemble (Jaime Cepero, Shaylen Harger, Jacob Hoffman, Katie Ladner, Alex Lugo, Cameron Nies, Andrew Poston, Monica Ramirez, Phil Sloves, Morgan Billings Smith, and Emma Tattenbaum-Fine) worked so well together. All of their solos left me wanting more. The children’s ensemble was an excellent addition to this production. This truly was, in every sense, an ensemble piece, and one I will never forget.
As far as my own experience goes, I really did leave feeling like I was a part of their community. The cast frequently involves the audience, even coming into the aisles, belting out some of the show’s most memorable songs (specifically, “Beautiful City,” which has been in my head for the past week!).
What I love about ACT of CT is that even though they are an equity house, they give off the warm, close-knit energy of a “community” theatre. They take into account their own local community, provide arts education, and make theatre accessible for everyone. I left this production feeling everything Mr. Levine wanted me to part with. I even got a bit choked up at the end, when…well, you’ll just have to see it to find out.
GODSPELL (Daniel C. Levine, Director; Sara Brians, Choreographer; Danny White, Music Director) is the second production for ACT of CT’s second season and runs through March 8. The show times are Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. A sensory-friendly performance (for those patrons who require adjusted production elements to enjoy the performance) is Saturday, March 7 at 2 p.m. Purchase tickets HERE. For more information about ACT of CT, ticket and annual subscription sales, fall education programs, sponsor/donor opportunities, and other theatre-related news and announcements visit www.actofct.org.
Production dates for the 2019-2020 Season are below:
GODSPELL: February 6 – March 8, 2020
NICKEL MINES: March 19-29, 2020
FREAKY FRIDAY: May 14 – June 14, 2020
About ACT of CT:
ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) of Connecticut is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) Equity theatre located in Ridgefield, CT. Founded and led by Katie Diamond, Daniel C. Levine, and Bryan Perri, ACT of CT presents limited engagement runs of well-known Broadway musicals and plays, as well as world-premiere productions by the next generation of writers and composers. ACT of CT was honored with 11 BroadwayWorld Connecticut Awards in 2018-2019, its inaugural season. The theatre company produces four shows per season, including one show in the “Presenting Stephen Schwartz!” Series (honoring ACT Artistic Advisor, Stephen Schwartz). All shows feature both Broadway stars and local Fairfield and Westchester County talent. In addition to fully-produced main stage productions, ACT of CT hosts a New Works Series, The Broadway Unplugged Series, youth education classes, masterclasses, camps, workshops, and a conservatory program for high school students. ACT of CT is located at 36 Old Quarry Road, in the beautiful village of Ridgefield, CT. Visit actofct.org for further information.