By Catherine Rabus
Collins Auditorium resounded joyfully this weekend with songs of love from the Mimes and Mummers’ playful yet profound production of “Godspell.” The flower child musical, with music and lyrics by the Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz, first opened on Broadway in 1971. It has since become a predominant piece of theatre, filled with simple yet catchy songs even theatrical novices would recognize, such as “Day by Day” and “Prepare Ye.”
“Godspell” follows a band of quirky performers and their benevolent leader, Jesus Christ (Jack Whyte), as they dramatize some of Jesus’ most famous parables found within the Gospel of Matthew. The show opened with the group joyfully preparing for Jesus’ coming and simultaneously stripping themselves of their Fordham sweatshirts to reveal their own unique outfits. This representative costume change introduced one of the show’s themes that Jesus’ message of love is for all people, including us as students at Fordham University.
Overall, the production of the show was relatively simple. The functionally fun set included a raised platform, as well as a rustic three story scaffolding which was frequently climbed on by the actors. It was clear that the show’s director, Sarah Wansley, chose to make the messages of the parables, rather than the set, lighting or costumes, the central focus of her show. Audience participation was a tool she used to accomplish this task. Even before the start of the show, the audience was immediately immersed in the production by being seated onstage; chairs were arranged to surround the action that would soon follow. Throughout the production, frequent audience participation energized the playfulness of the show, while subtly emphasizing its theme of Jesus’ call to all people. A both hilarious and impressive moment of audience participation was when Jesus asked an audience member to choose a movie genre that two of his trusty apostles used to improvise the performance of a parable.
Other than the typical modes of storytelling normally found within a musical such as singing and dancing, this “God-squad” used a variety of imaginative tools in order to tell these stories, ingeniously transmitting Jesus’s central message of love to the audience. Rap, miming and even card tricks by none other than the Son of God himself were just some of the impressive ways that the cast went about portraying these parables.
In a show which can be easily modernized and modified with each production, the Mimes were bold in their stark incorporation of current social and political issues throughout the production. The performance began with a cacophony of tragic events in the news throughout the last few years. Caitlin Calio, a senior member of the cast, recalled that on the first day of rehearsal, actors were asked to bring a news story they found particularly important. They used these same stories at the start of the show and continued to talk about these pressing issues throughout the rehearsal process. Calio explained that the cast discussed how they could combat these issues through Jesus’ message of love as the show progressed. The cast took collections for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico and for a NYC LGBTQ+ youth group at the end of each show, practicing exactly what they had just preached.
The lyric “Overcome evil with love” embodies “Godspell’s” motif, which the Mimes dexterously portrayed. In a chilling moment of the show, Jesus tells his apostles to love everyone-even those who are hard to love. One of his followers interjects “Even the white supremacists in Charlottesville?”
“Yes,” Jesus replies, “even them.” This message, no matter how hard it can be to practice, is crucial in today’s hate-filled world. Whether you are religious or not, Jesus’s message of love for all people is one we could all use to hear and try to live by, just as he and his apostles did throughout this meaningful production.