The last time Rochester Repertory Theatre staged the musical “Godspell,” the Rep was only four years old, it was located on the second floor of a building on South Broadway, and RJ Traff was in the cast. That was 1988.
Well, now it’s 2018, and the Rep is presenting “Godspell” once again. The Rep is now celebrating its 35th season, and has been located on Seventh Street Northeast for over a decade. And RJ Traff is once again in the cast.
“RJ is back,” said Samantha Gibson, who is directing “Godspell” for the Rep. The play opens Sept. 7.
There’s something else familiar from that 1988 production. That year, “Godspell” was so popular with audiences that the run of the show was extended. This year, an extra date has already been added to the run, even though “Godspell” hasn’t even opened yet. The demand for tickets is ahead of normal expectations, Gibson said.
All of which could make the director and cast feel some extra pressure about opening a milestone season in front of an expectant audience.
However, Gibson, who directed last spring’s hit “The Spitfire Grill,” doesn’t see it that way.
“This is such a well-loved show,” she said. “I feel like it’s going to be a show everybody will enjoy. You’re going to walk out feeling good about yourself.”
“Godspell,” which had its New York debut in 1971, is a musical retelling of the Gospel according to Matthew. In some ways, the play is a product of an era when everything, including the Bible, was up for re-examination. Even those who never saw a production of the show were fans of the original score recording, which included the hit “Day by Day.”
“The music is easily my favorite part,” Gibson said.
For this production, Gibson is setting “Godspell” on a subway platform in modern-day New York City.
“I was thinking of ways to modernize it,” she said. “They had a junkyard scene in the original, and I was thinking of a place where all these people would come together.”
In New York that would be a subway platform, where commuters from all walks of life find themselves in the same place at the same time.
Although “Godspell” is based on the Bible, it is not preachy, Gibson said.
“They make it a lot more relatable for everybody,” she said. “I think this show can really reach out to everyone. It’s really about community, about finding a family.”
Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin September 6, 2018