What story could be more appropriate for family entertainment than one that comes from the Bible?
But add lively music and a 10-member cast of actors, singers and dancers and you have the award-winning musical “Godspell,” which opens Thursday at Cresson Lake Playhouse, 279 Shapiro Road, Loretto.
Based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, and featuring a score by Stephen Schwartz, “Godspell” boasts a string of well-loved songs, led by the international hit, “Day By Day.”
As the cast performs such songs as “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” “Learn Your Lessons Well,” “All for the Best,” “All Good Gifts,” “Turn Back, O Man” and “By My Side,” the parables of Jesus Christ come to life.
Director Molly Riva of Altoona called “Godspell” one of her favorite musicals, and this production marks the fifth time she has undertaken it.
“Godspell’s” timeless message has always been about finding unshakable faith amid a shallow modern world.
“While the musical was first done in the ’70s, we are bringing time into the present,” Riva said.
“But the theme is the same as we carry Jesus’ message after his time on earth.”
In the ’70s, “Godspell” was on the cutting edge and may have been too far out there for some members of the audience, but Riva believes the musical currently is more mainstream.
So where the original played out in an urban junkyard/playground, “Godspell” 2010 takes advantage of the theater’s setting and takes place in a barn.
Since the setting is never explicitly stated in the text, directors frequently see this show as a chance to show off their creative abilities.
“The barn is a unique space that allows the audience to get involved as actors go up into the aisles, breaking down the fourth wall,” Riva said.
“We are doing every song from the original musical stage production and also ‘Beautiful City,’ which was added to the movie version and is one of my favorites.”
“Godspell” opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1971 and was an immediate hit with audiences.
Because the Cherry Lane was too small for the crowd, the production moved uptown to the Promenade Theatre, where it played 2,124 performances until it moved to Broadway in 1976.
The musical then played for an additional 527 performances on Broadway.
It is considered to be a groundbreaking and unique reflection on the life of Jesus, with a message of kindness, tolerance and love.
“Godspell” is also a very low-budget musical.
“The set is minimal and cast members will be dressed in casual clothes,” Riva said.
Leading the cast is Brett Keith of Tyrone, who portrays Jesus, and John Glen Vandermark of Altoona, who plays John the Baptist.
Other cast members are Rodney Berkey, Altoona; Dana Cooper, Johnstown; Devon Seymour, Ebensburg; Jonathan Nicoloff, Sidman; Michelle Gailey, Lilly; and Kelsey Ingold, Devon Ingold and Mark Lynch, all of Cresson.
Jonathan O’Harrow of Altoona is the music director.
Performances run through July 10.
Where: Cresson Lake Playhouse, 279 Shapiro Road, Loretto.
When: Thursday through July 10.
Curtain times: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. June 27. No performance July 4.
Cost: $17 for adults, $10 for children younger than 12.