Director and choreographer Stacey Flaster has faith in the connection audiences have to the musical "Godspell."
"When you talk to people and tell them this is the musical you're producing, the first thing they say is always something about how they love the songs from the show," said Flaster, who is heading a new revival production of the stage tale based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew at Theatre at the Center in Munster.
"They're right, the songs are amazing."
Hailed as one of Broadway's most popular rock musicals, "Godspell" opens this weekend and runs until Oct. 20.
Featuring the sparkling score by Stephen Schwartz of "Wicked" fame and an energetic book by original director John-Michael Tebelak, "Godspell" is the upbeat retelling of a series of biblical parables.
"It's definitely a very different type of show to direct and not a production that you see done all that often these days," Flaster said.
"It was considered very innovative when it was first created for audiences."
Described as "a celebration of worldwide community, packed with hit songs and irresistible goodwill," "Godspell still remains one of the biggest off-Broadway and Broadway successes of all time, running for more than 2,600 performances. The two-act musical follows a contemporary Jesus Christ as he recruits a group of followers and teaches them various lessons through song and dance.
It originally opened off Broadway in 1971 to rave reviews, where it ran for nearly two years. The musical's immense popularity later led to a 1973 film version set in New York City, and a number of Broadway and off-Broadway revivals. The production was most recently revived on Broadway at the Circle on the Square Theatre in November 2011, running through June 2012.
The score by Stephen Schwartz showcases a range of popular tunes like the international hit "Day by Day" and "Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord," "All Good Gifts," "Turn Back, O Man" and "By My Side," all sharing messages of kindness, tolerance and love. "Godspell" won the 1972 Grammy Award for Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album, and was a 1977 Tony nominee for Best Original Score.
Audiences at Theatre at the Center will share the creative company of new talents on stage during the show's run and Flaster said she is also impressed by the bounty of "special events and unique programming" created by Theatre at the Center during the run for both teens and adults. (See info box)
"I wanted to be very open with my casting and the result is a group of very pure and fresh talents, who work great together," Flaster said.
"We have a cast of 12 and when you watch what we've created, it's very easy to see it's the people and their portrayal of each of these identities that make this show what it is, all performing as one."
Her casting of "Godspell" stars Liam Quealy as Jesus Christ, Jim DeSelm as Judas and John the Baptist, Matt Deitchman as Jeffrey, George Keating as Lamar, Merrick Robison as Herb, Hillary Marren as Robin, Alexis Rogers as Joanne, Rose LeTran as Peggy, Kathleen Gibson as Sonia, Landree Fleming as Gilmer, David Hathaway as David and Lauren Paris as Lauren.
"I knew immediately Liam was Jesus," Flaster said.
"And when he auditioned for the role, I was right. It was the fit I was looking for."
Quealy, who was born and raised in Mokena, Ill. and now lives in Chicago, has never performed at Theatre at the Center in Munster and said he was eager to be part of the production.
"While people might often think of Andrew Lloyd Webber and 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' it's 'Godspell' that has all of the songs so many people love to revisit and that's one of the first things I thought about when I was auditioning," Quealy said.
"Doing this production at Theatre at the Center makes it even more special, because of the design of the stage and space, the audience gets to have a close connection to what's happening in every scene and musical number."
"Godspell's" production team is led by Artistic Director William Pullinsi and features Musical Direction and Orchestrations by William Underwood. The design team includes Scenic Designer Angie Weber-Miller, Lighting Designer Shelley Strasser Holland, Sound Designer Luis Garcia, Props Designer Bridget Earnshaw, Costume Designers Brenda Winstead and Julia Zayas-Melendez and Wig Designer Kevin Barthel. The Stage Manager is Matt McMullen, the Production Manager/Technical Director is Ann Davis and TATC’s General Manager is Richard Friedman.