Pasadena Theatre Company has an enduring affection for the 1971 musical "Godspell" that ensures the company returns to the show every few years.
The latest incarnation, set to open Aug. 15 for a two-weekend, six-show run at Anne Arundel Community College's Humanities Recital Hall, will delight returning fans as well as those experiencing the show for the first time.
This is the troupe's fifth production of "Godspell," a show that's not only an audience favorite, but is embraced by the crew and cast for its variety, from humor to reverent interpretation. Of course, there's also the enduring appeal of Stephen Schwartz's score — his first stage success.
"Godspell" was inspired by an Easter incident in 1970 when, returning from a service, long-haired Carnegie Mellon University student John-Michael Tebelak was stopped and searched for drugs by a police officer. That experience led Tebelak to create and produce "Godspell" at Carnegie with a score consisting mostly of Episcopal hymns played by a rock band.
Tebelak left college and took what had become his master's thesis to New York, where producers brought in Tebelak's Carnegie classmate — a largely unknown Schwartz, who was in New York trying to sell his idea for a musical called "Pippin."
Schwartz reportedly wrote a new "Godspell" score in five weeks, More than 40 years later, the Pasadena Theatre Company's cast and crew will perform such tunes as "All for the Best," "Prepare Ye," "By My Side" and "Day by Day" in this celebration of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Flower children and clowns interpret the parables, illustrating the teachings of Jesus to love one another.
Pasadena Theatre President Sharon Steele is serving as executive producer for "Godspell" for the fifth time — she was at the helm for the earlier productions in 1999, 2000, 2005 and 2008.
"We decided that the world needs the message of 'Godspell' today in these uncertain times. We need to respect something greater than ourselves that is found in this message of faith, love and forgiveness," Steele said, adding that she "cannot stop singing and humming this music."
Said director Chuck Dick: "For us at PTC, this is a special show we return to because it is uplifting about the human condition of caring about each other and even sacrificing for each other, which is the opposite of what we're seeing now. It is an ensemble work requiring a cast of 12 performers who remain onstage through the entire performance time.
"This show works in the intimate space of AACC's Humanities theater, where audiences can feel connected to the actors."
Steele noted that this production features a cast of three age groups — from teens to middle age, some new actors and others returning to the show, though often with a twist. For instance, in the 2000 production, Frank Antonio portrayed Jesus; this time he'll play John the Baptist and Judas.
Having been in the "Godspell" cast in 2005 and 2008, Christy Stouffer is returning for her third appearance in the show. Combined with Antonio, the two have appeared in every one of Pasadena's five productions — but this will be their first together.
Stouffer recalled seeing "Godspell" performed as an eighth-grader and how it first attracted her to the stage.
Singer John Sheeler, who is remembered for his starring performance in Pasadena's "Jekyll and Hyde," will deliver "All Good Gifts" — a song Steele said is ideally suited to his impressive tenor voice.
Hearing the cast's fine singers deliver memorable songs may be reason enough to buy tickets for the entire family, but there's also the fact that this show is historically one of the greatest off-Broadway and Broadway successes ever. The joyous Gospel-based show is a colorful, fun musical that delivers a message of tolerance and love.
"Godspell will be performed Aug. 15 to Aug. 24, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., at Anne Arundel Community College's Humanities Recital Hall, 101 College Parkway, Arnold. The folks at Pasadena Theatre Company suggest advance tickets purchases due to the show's popularity. Tickets are $18 for seniors, adults and students older than 12. Tickets are $12 for children 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased by visiting PTCShows.com.