Exploring the teachings of Jesus Christ

Players by the Sea presents ‘Godspell’

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At a time of year when many theatres focus on holiday productions, Players by the Sea chose to set their sights on a non-holiday production this month, but a production nonetheless that fosters the underlining meaning of the holiday season – one of community, hope and acceptance.

At the core, the show is about the man Jesus Christ, teaching lessons on how to be a good person, be kind to one another and the importance of acceptance, according Bradley Akers, director of the Players by the Sea production.

The play was written in by John-Michael Tebelak in the early 70s and composed by Stephen Schwartz, the seasoned composer whose body of work includes productions such as “Pippin (1972)” and “Wicked (2003)” to movies such as “The Prince of Egypt (1998)” and “Enchanted (2007)”. Initially an off Broadway production, the musical experienced a revival in 2011 on Broadway. “Godspell” is mostly based on the Gospel of Matthew. The production includes popular hymnals such as “Day by Day” and “Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord)”.

But it’s the theme of the production that keeps “Godspell” relevant today.

“… [“Godspell”] was written indirectly in response to the Vietnam War and miscommunications, but it’s so relevant to today because we still, maybe even more, live in a world where we still don’t know how to communicate with each other,” Akers said. “And I think it’s communication and how we’re told how to communicate with people that ultimately leads to those really bad things that are happening in our world. So ‘Godspell’ is still timely because it’s teaching love for your neighbor no matter what.”

The show has a religious feel to it, but whether you are a believer or not, the play explores the life and teachings of a historical figure who promoted love and kindness, Akers said.

The production consists of 10 performers, of which only two are named characters: Jesus, played by Keaton Matthews, and a dual role of John the Baptist/ Judas Iscariot played by Mitchell Wohl. The other eight members of the “tribe” as Akers refers to them, are portraying characters known by the actors’names.

Akers chose to set the play in an abandoned vaudeville theatre, exploring the contrast between an abandoned, decrepit theatre against the theme of brightness and love. Even though the play has sad elements as it touches on the Passion of the Christ in the second act, Akers said he’s hoping that the audience will take away with them the feeling of hope and feel uplifted and inspired at the end of the show.

“Godspell” opened at the theatre last Friday and will be performed on the Mainstage Thursdays-Sundays through Dec. 20. The two-act musical includes around 15 musical numbers has a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes. The show is family-friendly and involves audience participation for volunteers wishing to be a part of the production.

The audience will also have the opportunity to participate in a fundraising effort promoted on social media as #giveatgodspell.

Players by the Sea, a 501(c)3 not for profit organization, is celebrating their 50th season this year. The building in which the theatre has been housed since 1999, is in need of some improvements which include expanding the ladies room and improving the education classroom. The goal is to raise $50,000. If you donate $5, donors can sign a converse sneaker that will be displayed on the wall. Converse sneakers are symbolic in the play as Jesus gives each of the tribe members a pair as a way to unite the group.

General admission tickets for “Godspell” are $28. The Thursday-Saturday curtain is at 8 p.m.; the Sunday curtain is at 2 p.m. Players by the Sea theatre is located at 106 Sixth St. N., Jacksonville Beach. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (904) 249-0289 or visit www.playersbythesea.org.

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