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Pioneer Productions Proudly Presents 'Godspell'


By Gina Marie Rodriguez, JerseyArts.com

originally published: 06/13/2024

Pioneer Productions Proudly Presents

Are the 1970s making a comeback? Pioneer Productions Company would have us believe so, and they are the ones leading the charge for the resurgence. Their upcoming production of “Godspell” brings forth all of the joy and vibrancy of the original production while taking its cues from the 2012 Broadway revival.

While the musical arrangement remains the same, I am told that this take on the show feels more rock than folk musical. The music is more complicated and layered, with the actors explaining that the songs are harder, and that much more fulfilling, to sing as they offer a richer and deeper sound.

Perhaps then this is more reinvention than a resurgence of the 1970s. That is for the audience to decide.

For those who have never seen a production of “Godspell,” the show is based on the Gospel of Matthew and presented as a series of parables. Featuring seven non-Biblical characters, the actors retain their own names in place of the typical nom du personnage. The only two Biblical characters of mention are Jesus and Judas/John the Baptist, as played in this production by Luana Cook Scott and Sean Coyle respectively. Pioneer’s production will also feature the talents of Patrick Comey, Tiffany Bizub, Lauren Mangine, Sarah Emaline Melton, Robert Stevens, Margaret Summer, and Jade Virginia.

Pioneer Productions Proudly Presents

While gender-blind casting is not new to “Godspell,” it is still quite rare. Luana Cook Scott is a female-identifying actor who will be portraying the character of Jesus. She also happens to be a pastor at the Morristown United Methodist Church where the show will be performed. She assures me that theologically, she has no qualms with the gender-blind casting. Curious as to how a show rooted in religion can appeal to the masses, and it most certainly has proven to do so over the years, I asked Luana her thoughts on how this show appeals to nondenominational, atheist, or agnostic audiences.



 
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“I believe that exposing ourselves to different viewpoints only enriches our understanding of one another, so I would encourage people outside of the Christian faith to attend and enjoy the show. It's fun and funny! (I love ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and I'm not Jewish!)

I think people will take away different things from the show. Christians might find a sense of renewal in the simplicity of the lessons. Non-Christians might be surprised at how many of the parables are laced into Judeo-Christian ethics which are prevalent in Western culture. And maybe some Christian Nationalists will realize they have become modern-day Pharisees. The story's impetus is about sharing an ideal that benefits the whole of a community and draws people together to love, encourage, and support one another. In the Christian faith, that ideal begins with the teachings of Jesus and continues through each of us letting our light shine. And we do so even in the face of great obstacles and challenges.” - Luana Cook Scott

Pioneer Productions Proudly Presents

Director Shanna Levine-Phelps shares a similar perspective. She says, “Godspell is a story about the warmth of humanity in community.  Though the main characters are named Jesus and Judas, that's as ‘religious’ as it gets for me. And being Jewish, I always thought of these two simply as humans in history and less like religious figures.  The lessons taught in Godspell are about kindness, love, support and understanding (to name a few!).  There is a greater energy than what we can see and/or feel. Whether you view that energy in a religious way or not, we all need to respect that energy within ourselves and each other, and live life to the fullest.

The one thing that all people have in common is that we are all human, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference or how we identify in general.  Humanity is the heart of existence and Godspell brings love and light to all humans!”

Tiffany Bizub, who makes her musical theater debut singing “By My Side,” and maybe the world’s largest “Godspell” fan, having watched the show over one hundred times chimes in to add, “The message in Godspell is one that needs to be told for all eyes to see and all ears to hear. It’s the reminder that we all need today, in the world we’re currently living in. No matter your creed, race, age or identity, Godspell can be enjoyed by all!”

Pioneer Productions Proudly Presents

Boasting the music and lyrics of the inimitable Stephen Schwartz, it becomes easier to understand why this musical has lasted the test of time. Schwartz has penned the lyrics to the widely popular shows, “Wicked” and “Pippin” alongside movie musicals like Disney’s “Pocahontas” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” among others. The recognizable tenor of his style is but one of the many attributes that drive the appeal of the show.

In speaking with star Luana Cook Scott, director Shanna Levine-Phelps, and cast member Tiffany Bizub, it is abundantly clear how much love has gone into crafting this production. These women speak with such heart about this show and about the community they have created among their cast and crew. Their energy alone is a sight to behold. One can only imagine how exciting that will be once transitioned to the stage.



 
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Each has a dream of what the audience will take away from this production.

Alluding to her favorite “Godspell” song, Luana shares, “I would hope they would enjoy the music, the story, and the experience itself of live theater. But I hope each person leaves believing that we can indeed build a community (aka a “Beautiful City”) where we are led by respect, compassion, accountability, and kindness”. The song “Beautiful City,” which was a later addition to the show, having been inspired by the LA Riots of 1992, is the reason that Luana was first compelled to audition for this production.

Pioneer Productions Proudly Presents

Director Levine-Phelps adds her wish for the audience, “I hope the audience feels joy, love and light and takes that with them even after leaving the theater.  I hope they are moved by each of these actors and their stories and the beautiful way they present each parable and song in their own unique and amazing way.  Live theater has a way of lifting the spirits, ‘Godspell’ will surely do that!!”

Pioneer Productions’ rendition of “Godspell” will run Fridays and Saturdays from June 14 to June 23rd at 8pm with Sunday matinees at 3pm at the Morristown United Methodist Church.

Morristown, NJ | June 14-23, 2024 | Click here for ticket information.




About the author: Gina Marie Rodriguez is an award-winning screenwriter, director, and actress. Her foray into filmmaking began at a young age as a way to avoid public speaking in school. From there, it grew into a love of telling stories and creating new worlds. Gina Marie boasts a Bronze Remi win from Worldfest Houston, Best Female Filmmaker from the Cosmic Film Festival, and a Best Actress in a Comedy from the Hang Onto Your Shorts Film Festival alongside nominations from the Golden Door International Film Festival, Official Latino Film and Arts Festival and Los Angeles Cinefest among others.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.




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