Rejoice: For 'Godspell' makes its Valentine Theatre premiere Friday

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  • Cast members of ‘Godspell’ dance and sing during a performance.
    Cast members of ‘Godspell’ dance and sing during a performance.

    Have faith, Godspell fans. The hit musical that has entertained audiences ever since it opened Off-Broadway in 1971 is going strong.

    A new production on a national tour, comes to the Valentine Theatre on Friday in a sold-out performance.

    Godspell, which arrived on Broadway in 1976 with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz of Wicked and Pippin fame, and book by John-Michael Tebelak, is built around a series of the parables of Jesus, primarily from the Gospel of Matthew.


    Among the enduring songs in the Tony Award-nominated score are "Day By Day," "Light of the World," and "Turn Back, O Man." The new production, directed by David Hogan, is inspired by the 2011 Broadway revival of Godspell. It is wrapped in the energy of today's music, movement, and comedic sensibility; it has been updated with current pop culture references to Facebook and Donald Trump, among others. And the songs have a more modern sound, more pop-rock, than the 1970s’ edition.

    "It's moved with the times, but it has the same message," Jake Stern, who portrays Jesus, said in a telephone interview. And, he said, that message is love.

    "I haven't met anyone who hasn't heard of Jesus, whether they know him as a savior or a good man or as a teacher," he said. "They've heard about him and they've heard his message. It's a timeless message."

    The young actor (he's 19) who is based in Toronto, is the son of a minister, so he grew up hearing that message. "I just find myself very fortunate and blessed to be doing a show where ... I get to share the Gospel with people, and I think it's definitely taken the pressure off [portraying] Jesus. These parables have already been built into my mind and my memory. I've heard them, I've heard my dad preach about them."

    His goal is to get the audience to feel something, and to take that feeling away with them when the evening ends. "This is a show with so many amazing life lessons, and whether you're religious or not, you can use it in your everyday life."

    This production's set is simple but elegant, Stern said, which helps focus on the cast and what they are conveying to the audience. There are 10 cast members, including Graham Parkhurst, who portrays John the Baptist and Judas, and Janelle Murray, a soprano who sings "Learn Your Lessons Well," a performance that often gets strong audience appreciation. "She has an amazingly powerful voice, and that [song] gets the audience clapping halfway through," Stern said. His favorite number is "Beautiful City," a ballad that he believes fits well with his voice.

    "Our show is so energetic, it's a big roller coaster ride; the audience has to grab on and not let go because we take them on a really cool journey," he said. "We're exhausted afterward, but we're having so much fun. The audience will come away saying, 'that was a really fun show.' "

    Godspell will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday at the Valentine Theatre, 400 North Superior St. The show is sold out.

    Contact Sue Brickey at