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The cast of Godspell. Carl Rajotte photo.




See Godspell

Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
When: Weekends, now through April 11
Admission: $15 to $45
Contact: palacetheatre.org, 668-5588




Punk-rock Godspell
Contemporary life lessons at the Palace

04/02/15
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



Months ago, Palace Theatre artistic director Carl Rajotte thought this spring’s Godspell would be very dark, with a dystopian, end-of-the-world kind of spin. But then winter happened.

“The concept has changed since three weeks ago, only because everybody has been saying, ‘I can’t wait for spring!’ That inspired me to go a different route,” Rajotte said during a Tuesday afternoon rehearsal. “I think everyone has had a long winter.”
He says this version of Godspell — on stage now through April 11 — is “Alice in Wonderland meets steampunk meets Garden of Eden.” The sets are bright, green and have not a dark but a “Johnny Depp” style about them. The music contains arrangements from the 2011 Broadway revival, but the handful of actors interviewed said they’ve never performed in anything like it.
“Every Godspell is done so differently,” Godspell actress Andrea Dotto said mid-rehearsal, a week and a half before showtime. “This version is so contemporary and it’s so relevant. It has the kind of punk-rock feel a lot of Broadway shows have right now.”
The musical is made up of parables, mostly from the Gospel of Matthew, though three are from the Gospel of Luke. It began as a master’s thesis project at Carnegie Mellon University in 1971 and got such a good reception that the producers hired Stephan Schwartz (another Carnegie Mellon theater alumnus) to write a new song score. It’s since been revived many times, on and off-Broadway, and in the U.K., Canada, Australia and Mexico.
Dotto thinks it transcends beliefs and fits nicely with the season’s change.
“[The characters] come from a darker energy, and then we’re introduced to the light, which I think is so beautiful,” Dotto said. “I’m not a religious person, but I’m really intrigued by the stories being told this way.”
Audiences can expect familiar faces — all except one cast member of this Godspell are Palace alumni — but unfamiliar sets, costumes and choreography. During cast interviews, there was talk of ukuleles, jump ropes, sign language, punk-rock costumes (Converse sneakers, tutus, big hair and a rainbow color scheme) and dancing — a given with any Rajotte production.
“There’s a lot of dancing in this show,” said Tim Shea, who plays Judas. 
He grew up in Raymond but had never performed with the Palace until now.
“I’ve seen this show plenty of times. … I was just coming back from my tour [Rock of Ages] and thought, ‘This will be great! Like a nice vacation home with my family.’ I thought I’d be going home for dinner every night,” Shea said. 
Part of the reason this show is so intensive is because the entire 11-member cast is onstage the entire time. There are no separate rehearsals, and during showtime, there are no bathroom breaks.
Another dimension to this show: sign language, which Rajotte incorporated as a nod to his younger, more foolish 18-year-old choreographer self, when a director at the time asked him to incorporate signing into the show they were working on.
“I was too young to know to say, ‘I don’t know how to do that.’ So I just made it up and taught it to the cast. And ever since then, I said one day, I will have the time and I will do this right. And so this is that time,” Rajotte said. (This time around, it will be correct; the musical director, Garrit Guadan, is also a sign language interpreter.)
Rajotte says Godspell is a show that can move through decades and remain relevant.
For one, there’s the music.
“Every song has kind of its own unique vibe,” Shea said. “There are some that sound like funk songs from the ’70s, and there are some that are ballads, some with guitar. Each almost touches its own genre, which is pretty cool.”
Then there’s the energy.
“It’s a show that requires you to be a really outgoing, fearless actor. … It’s a high-energy rock and roll show, but it’s also a show that requires you to be kind of a clown and silly and ridiculous, which is so much fun to do, especially when we’re all onstage together,” said Jared Troilo, who plays Jesus. (Audiences might remember him as Tony from the Palace’s recent West Side Story.)
But most of all, the messages are timeless.
“These are life lessons. They come from scripture, but they’re interpreted in a way that makes sense for anyone,” Rajotte said. 
 
As seen in the April 2, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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