'Godspell' puts modern twist on book of Matthew

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

Tarnim Bybee (left) places a gentle kiss on the cheek of Micah Larsen, another company member, during one of the musical numbers.

Imagine learning about the book of Matthew. Now add in some song, dance, an interactive experience and some modern twists, and you have Ethington Theatre’s final play of the semester.

"Godspell" is a musical based on the book by John-Michael Tebelak that depicts the life of Jesus Christ through parables. Grand Canyon University’s performance was directed by Joanie Colson, who teaches theatre education on campus and is new to Ethington Theatre’s list of directors.

“It was very nice to bring in someone new to direct, and Joanie brings many years of directorial experience,” said Claude Pensis, Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production.

Audiences will be greeted with a bright and colorful city set, filled with shop signs and buildings and even details as small as graffiti on the walls. The production changes its tone throughout the performance, seeming whimsical at some points and taking a more serious tone when tackling the heavier topics within the story.

Throughout the musical, the Theatre Department pulls audiences into the stories, both figuratively and literally. Cast members venture off the stage and, in a sense, make the entire theatre part of the set and interact with audience members as if they also are in the story.

“There’s a lot of audience interaction. In fact, we will be bringing two or three audience members on stage and utilizing them in the play,” Pensis said.

Ryan Ardelt (front) and his fellow castmates participate in a well-rehearsed piece of choreography.

Said Brandon Brown, who plays Judas, “It’s sort of interesting because 'Godspell' is an ensemble show, so we all sort of play ourselves essentially on stage and we’re all basically followers of the same this essential Jesus figure.” 

It also allows the 17-member ensemble to provide a modern tone to the performance.

For ensemble member Charlotte Perkis, the experience was “really special” because the cast is, in a sense, playing a disciple of Jesus and the show allows everyone to be “on one level.”

As a musical, the performance tells the stories through a series of catchy songs composed by Grammy and Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz, of "Wicked" and "Pippin" fame.

“What I was always told about musicals was that we start singing when words aren’t enough and speaking isn’t enough and we have to sing it,” Perkis said. “That’s so true for this show because we are singing the word of God and passages from the Bible. We just feel an immense amount of joy about it, and I feel like that’s what makes music in this show different than other shows.”

Members of the women's ensemble participate in a musical number in one of the parable scenes in "Godspell."

Viewers will get to experience the piano performed by Mark Fearey, beatboxing and a band for a more rock kind of sound to accompany the vocals.

“I love all forms of music and so I think what really interests me about this show, and that will hopefully interest other people -- to show how music throughout time still ties together the same themes and can still bring the same themes to people’s hearts and minds,” said Chris Bradford, who plays the role of Jesus. “Most of the songs are adapted in rewritten forms of different hymns that exist, with the exception of the song ‘On the Willows.’ All the rest of the songs come from hymns that are already written about people's sort of relations toward Christ.”

Bradford said playing the role of Jesus has really taught him a lot about himself and allowed him to better understand Jesus’ story.

Chris Bradford (center) plays Jesus in the production of "Godspell."

“One of the things that I definitely felt throughout this entire process was an understanding of what it was like to go through some of the situations,” he said.

The Theatre Department has worked to create a warm and inviting experience for their audience, opening the production for anyone who would like to see it.

“We’re inviting anyone who wants to come see the show,” ensemble member Tyler Sorrels said. “It’s not necessarily a religious show, it just highlights and focuses on the character of who the man Jesus was, and I think that GCU is doing a good job at connecting both aspects of how it was written and also adapting it to what we believe here at GCU.”

For Bradford, if there is one thing he would leave audiences with after watching the show it would be “to feel welcome in the community that is Christ and for each of them to feel that fire to go a spread that community and grow that community and show that same kind of love for others.”


What: “Godspell” by John-Michael Tebelak

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays on March 22-24 and March 29-31

Where: Ethington Theatre

Tickets: $12 admission. Discounted tickets for senior citizens, military personnel, GCU and GCE employees, GCU alumni, children 12 years old and younger, and GCU students.


Director: Joanie Colson

Musical Director/Pianist: Mark Fearey

Guitars: Daniel Torres, Steven Lufkin

Bass: Karl Kessler

Drums: Jeremy Lentz

Scenic Designer: William H. Symington V

Lighting Designer: Claude Pensis 

Costume Designer: Nola Yergen

Sound Designer: Steven Davis, Dasha Buchanan

Hair and Makeup Designer: Kayleen Harshbarger

Stage Manager: Kristi Noneman

Technical Director/Master Electrician: Steven Davis

Choreographer: Abigail Neighbors

The Cast

Jesus: Chris Bradford

Judas: Brandon Brown

John the Baptist: Gavin Michael Harris


Ryan Ardelt, Isaac O’Farrell, Micah Larsen, Grace Henderson, Autumn Neil, Emily Sheppard, Tarnim Bybee, Lindsay Frankowski

Ensemble Chorus

Christine Ward, Charlotte Hope Perkis, McKenna Kollman, Austin Rockwell, Tyler Sorrels, Alex Cavanaugh

 Contact GCU staff writer Ashlee Larrison at [email protected] or at 602-639-8488.


Related content:

GCU Today: GCU theatre brings dark era of Holocaust to light

GCU Today: Acts of faith: Parables takes Gospel to local schools


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/