Catching the wave of the high- riding Jesus People Movement of the late 1960s, "Godspell" appealed to young, hip spirituality seekers disillusioned by the free love, free wheeling, "God is dead," drug culture.
Focusing on the divinity of the man Jesus, "Godspell" tells of his teaching through parable in a non-traditonal way filled with high energy, excitement and joy.
For those who have never heard of "Godspell" Â— and for those who have Â— an opportunity exists to witness the power of "Godspell's" unique delivery of the parables of Jesus.
"Whether you're Christian or not," director J. Michael Frasier said of the play's broad appeal, "so much in the Bible is about how we should treat each other. This show has an inspirational message for life Â— for humanity."
More than 30 years ago, the play's author, John-Michael Telebak, found his inspiration to write the play after a particularly uninspiring traditional Easter Vigil at the Anglican Cathedral in Pittsburgh.
In a 1970s interview, Telebak is quoted as saying, "The people seemed bored and the clergy seemed to be hurrying to get it over with. I left with the feeling that, rather than rolling the rock away from the Tomb, they were piling more on."
A student at Carnegie Institute of Technology's School of Drama, Telebak went home that night and finished his Masters' thesis. It was a rock musical based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew he titled "Godspell," Old English for Gospel.
In 1971, "Godspell" opened Off-Broadway in New York. With a later transition into an original Grammy award-winning score by Stephen Schwarz, the show moved to Broadway. By the mid 1970s, theatrical productions were playing to audiences in major cities all over the world.
Today, "Godspell" is still considered one of Broadway's most successful musicals in history.
The cast is small. Characters are Jesus, a dual John the Baptist/Judas Iscariot character, with the remaining nine cast members playing themselves Â— moving in and out of various personalities as the followers and disciples of Jesus.
With an almost vaudevillian approach, the play has no plot Â— moving quickly from skit to skit, parable to parable Â— portraying the last seven days of Jesus' life on earth. The emotional climax comes during the symbolic crucifixion and resurrection.
Harshest critics have labeled "Godspell" blasphemous for its seemingly lighthearted approach to a serious subject. Others have been drawn to the fresh approach of finding a deep spiritual message within the play's multiple dimensions.
Frasier produced "Godspell" twice during his tenure at
La Grande High School, but not for many years. Part of the joy of this production, he says, is that both his sons, Jared and Devin are in the cast.
Devin is playing Jesus. He remembers hanging around during a couple of rehearsals as a child, but didn't remember much about "Godspell.'' He says the project has had a unusual effect on his faith.
"This show is going to make you ask questions. It's going to make you want to know more about the Source," he says thoughtfully, but adds with a grin, "and it's also one play I think my friends will actually come to without me having to drag 'em."
La Grande senior Mekala Clapp is playing the dual role of John the Baptist/Judas Iscariot.
" Â‘Godspell' opens up the story of Christ on earth in an unusual way," she says, adding that her experience during rehearsal has been "spiritually enriching."
The dual role of a character who at first declares the divinity of the man Jesus and then betrays Him is extreme.
"Playing this character," Clapp says as her eyes fill expressively, "makes the message so impacting to me."
At 18, cast member Zach Devore may be the oldest of the group, with some college and firefighting experience under his belt.
"Its a powerful play," he says quietly. "It will make you question what you do. The heart of all the music is the message to get closer to God."
Although experienced at singing publicly, Devore says the dancing is a new thing for him, but he was more than willing to "give it a try" in order to be a part of this show.
Nicole Faye Crow is also an older member of the cast. She is finishing her first year at EOU.
Crow says she was a bit unsure of being in the production at first because it seemed "a little immature." She has, however, relaxed and opened herself up to the experience which she says has also allowed her to discover deeper levels to what superficially seemed "a silly play."
"It definitely is a very emotional experience," she says.
" Â‘Godspell' is relevant for everyone."
Â— By Mardi Ford