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August 12, 2022 - 8:08am

Jesus at Mardi Gras: Summer Youth Theater's 'gorgeous' version of "Godspell"

posted by Joanne Beck in news, entertainment, Batavia Players, batavia, notify.

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In its 25th year, Batavia Players’ Summer Youth Theater program returns from a pandemic year off with something spectacular to behold, Director Pat Burk says.

He chose the musical “Godspell” to give prominent and ample opportunity for the 15 youth actors to fully embrace their characters and bring the Gospel of Matthew to life in an atypically festive and colorful atmosphere.

“It’s about parables and things, and also excerpts from the Gospel according to Matthew. But you know, the whole premise of the show is just a very beautiful premise, and the show itself is physically gorgeous. I think people will be surprised at our setting this year … during Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” Burk said during an interview with The Batavian. “And that's another nice thing about the show, you can kind of put it into the setting you want it to be in. Originally it was in a junkyard in New York City. It was a bunch of homeless, kind of hippie vagrants, in the junkyard in New York City. We've changed that, and ours is very New Orleans, Mardi Gras-themed. and it is a very beautiful show. So I think people will enjoy it.”

The musical is a retelling of the Gospel of Matthew set in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. The disciples of Jesus spread his message of love and tolerance through the city streets as the time gets closer to Jesus's betrayal at the hands of Judas and his eventual crucifixion. Parables are interspersed with music set primarily to lyrics from traditional hymns, with the passion of Christ appearing briefly near the end of the show.

With its debut on Thursday, Summer Youth Theater’s production continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday at Batavia First Presbyterian Church, 300 East Main St., Batavia.

"Godspell" began as a project by drama students at Carnegie Mellon University and evolved from off-off-Broadway to being rescored for an off-Broadway production, which became a long-running success.

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Don’t let the actors’ ages, from 12 to 21, fool you; most are fairly well versed in theater and in working with Batavia Players, Burk said. There have been challenges, though, with the venue — First Presbyterian Church in Batavia. The widespread choreography and sets were too much for the Players’ makeshift stage while the new one is under construction, he said.

The troupe was invited to perform at the East Main Street church and accepted, meaning a complete transplanting of sets, the light and sound boards, costumes, props and stage setup, he said. They had to rent sound equipment, move and reset lights, and faced more challenges with designing a set for this particular show, he said, “which we want to really highlight the design and the costumes and the coloring, the colors involved in the show and how we're setting the show.”

“We had to bring in a bunch of really expert people to make that happen,” Burk said. “And I think people will be amazed. It's pretty expansive, and it's pretty impressive, actually.”

There also wasn’t room for the pit band that accompanies vocalists, he said. Their current, temporary digs consist of a small stage area inside Batavia City Centre until the theater construction is finished.

“Because the only shows that we do in there … we can have drums and guitars and bass and two pianos, and there's no room for that in our temporary space,” he said. “So the shows that we've done in there, if there is music, have either band recorded music that you purchase, and/or an individual piano. So, this show really requires a fuller pit, plus the choreography and dance numbers are, in our version, are fairly extensive, and they would not have worked in that space.”

That being said, the church performance space has worked out nicely for a breathtaking production that, contrary to what some people may think of biblical prose, is anything but boring, he said.

“It's absolutely gorgeous. And the music is amazing. Absolutely amazing, and it allows a lot of individual moments to shine within the show,” he said. “It's kind of an ensemble cast, which, there's obviously, one big important role. And then there's a bunch of ensemble roles, but they all have lines, they all have solos, they all have songs. It's also a good one to highlight the kids that are in it.”

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"Godspell" takes Burk back — nearly 50 years — to when he was first cast in it at 16. He found it then — as he still does today — to be a “beautiful, beguiling, and bold” over-the-top celebration that was an immediate success amidst a swirl of controversy, he said.

“It certainly was not a traditional telling of biblical parables. What many did not realize at the time was that this musical was not about the life and times of Jesus, it was about how Jesus created this loving and caring

community from a wide array of people,” he said. “Instead of being the universal story of the life of Jesus, it used Jesus as a vessel for the story of how a community is created and how it can include all.”

Ticket information is available at showtix4u.com

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Batavia Players' Summer Youth Theater cast readies for a debut of "Godspell" Thursday evening; Elise Baumer, Crystalina Baumer, Melania DeSa e Frias, Maia Zerillo and Jocelyn Coburn; front row featured actors Deacon Smith, Kai Hoag and Gabriel Burk Flanagan; Matthew Stevens as the lead of Jesus, with Samantha Jane Balbi, who is also the show choreographer; Matthew Stevens and Dorothy Sue Flanagan, the youngest member of the cast. Photos by Howard Owens.

 

 

 

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