As Easter approaches, the students of Westminster High School are preparing to put the story of the book of St. Matthew on stage in the modern-day musical, "Godspell."
The 1971 play, featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. March 18 through 20 in the high school auditorium, 1225 Washington Road.
Through skits and songs by a group of traveling carnival clowns, "Godspell" relates biblical stories, which include the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the parables, the Beatitudes and the Crucifixion.
The play will feature a cast of 27, more than double that of the Broadway production. The school chorus department will provide additional voices for such popular songs as "Day by Day."
"The kids will be in clown costumes they made themselves, and the set will be like a carnival," said director Mary Lou Grout. "It's mainly an ensemble effort -- I tried to divide up the lines among all the cast so that each student would have a moment in the spotlight."
The play starts out on a light note with Christ as the Light of the World, but in Act II, Jesus goes to pray at the Garden of Gethsemane, has the Last Supper and is crucified.
Mrs. Grout said the play follows, almost verbatim, the Gospel of St. Matthew.
"I'm adding something I've never seen in 'Godspell,' even on Broadway and that's prior to the Last Supper, we're doing the foot-washing," Mrs. Grout said.
Acting out the events of the life of Jesus teaches such lessons as forgiveness, judging others, serving God and trusting in him.
"It's the idea that even in modern times, it's still applicable to today," said Erin Roehrle, student assistant to Mrs. Grout. "Even if you don't have a Christian bent, you can't argue with the parables. It's more universal truth than Christian."
Larry Norris, the 17-year-old senior who got the part as Jesus on his first tryout in a school play, was surprised at getting the lead.
"I'm not the most religious person, but I believe at least," he said. "Apparently she has faith!" he said of Mrs. Grout's choice for the lead.
He does two solos, sings other songs with the group and is on stage most of the time in a modern portrayal of Christ teaching his followers. He said he is a member of the school chorus.
The followers, ordinary people chosen to portray Every Man, use their own names for most of the play.
"We're automatically followers, and we act out the parables and songs," said Melinda Denham, a 16-year-old junior who is one of the clowns. "We just use our own names, then we each have different characters for the parables."
Melinda is a veteran of other school plays, along with about athird of the cast. The rest are new to the stage.
While entertaining in its method of telling the story of St. Matthew, "Godspell" nonetheless makes its point.
"There's no question it's Christian-bent in its lessons of the Bible," said Mr. Roehrle. "A lot of people think it's sacrilege, but it's not. It's praising God. For people who think that way, they should see it."
Tickets are $3 per person, $2 for senior citizens, and are available at the door. Information: 848-5050.