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Godspell, an Upbeat Rendition of the Life of Jesus Christ, Comes to Banner Elk Presbyterian on August 21, 23, and 24

Pictures from Monday night dress rehearsal – Play starts Tuesday night

By Elly Murray

Godspell, an upbeat rendition of the life and death of Jesus Christ, will be performed at the Banner Elk Presbyterian Church on August 21, 23, and 24. This wonderful show was originally written by Stephen Schwartz, who went on to compose Wicked, Pocahontas, and Pippin, among others. It features, as many of his productions do,  a wide variety of music including folk, pop, jazz, vaudeville, and quintessential “broadway.”

Janet Speer, in addition to being the director of this show, is the director of the Lees-McRae Summer Theatre, and has been the head of the Worship Arts Team for seven years now. She says that, “We’ve done several things; we usually do an Easter thing and things like that. But…the Worship Arts Ministry team at Banner Elk Presbyterian has been talking about doing a major production for some time.  Godspell is the perfect vehicle for us. It is simple in its telling yet powerful in its message.”

Speer has directed the show a few times, and she always loves doing it. She says that, “Godspell is a retelling of the story of Matthew from the Bible…it’s an old, old story, but it’s told in a joyous…way. Lot’s of fun, all the music is vaudeville and folk songs and just fabulous music to tell this story. So we’ve heard the stories over and over again, usually the parables of Jesus and all the way from His baptism to His death and resurrection. But it is told in a very joyous, positive way. It’s just a great piece of music that’s stood the test of time.”

The show has certainly gained a lot of interest from local musicians, including drummers, percussionists, and bass players. Speer says, “We had three pianists who were just interested in joining us, and two are going to come from Johnson City, just because they want to do it.”

There are over 15 cast members, and the cast has put a huge amount of work into this show, usually practicing about 10 hours a week. Speer says that, “I also meet with individuals during the week, as does Laura (Russell-Music Director), which probably adds another 10.”

The show does still need some assistance with the little nuances of putting on a performance. Speer explains that, “We are doing our own costumes, and I am doing props. I’m hoping some volunteers can help us with refreshments and ‘front of house.’ We also need help to get the stage up.”

The show will be at 7 p.m. on August 21, 23, and 24, in the sanctuary of the Banner Elk Presbyterian Church. Grape juice, cookies, and crackers will be served as refreshments, as a sort of “Lord’s Supper.” Guests should arrive by 6:30 p.m. to make sure they get a seat and expect the show to last about two hours.

There are no tickets involved because, as Feild Russell, the pastor at Banner Elk Presbyterian says, “This is the church’s gift to the community. We have done things of this nature in the past, bringing professional storytellers in and creating productions that we just like to do as a gift to our community.”

Speer adds that, “We may take a love offering to help with expenses…People do not have to participate in that, but if they like, they can give to the offering to defray expenses for the show.”

The cast had a dress rehearsal on Monday and they are ready to go according to Speer. 

“This group has been so sweet. It’s such a different thing, you’re dealing with some people that haven’t been on stage before, but I’ve just really liked it. They’re ready,” said Speer. “These people are talking from the heart and it’s just really been a blessing. They’re coming at it from a really good place and know why they are doing it. 

Putting the set together in the church has been a challenge at times, having to pull the set down for regular church services during the week, but that has not deterred the group at all. 

“Theater started in the church during medieval times and I think theater belongs in the church,” Speer said. 

The Banner Elk Presbyterian Church is located at 420 College Dr SW. For more information, or to help out, please email speerj@lmc.edu

Janet Barton Speer is the Director, Laura Carringer Russell is the Music Director, John Thomas Oaks plays the role of Jesus, Tommy Oaks as Judas, and James Taylor as John the Baptist. Cast includes Martha Burns, Nancy Dosher, Burlene Franklin, Payton Franklin, Claire Kimmel, Sarah McGuire, Patricia Oaks and Geana Anderson Welter. The musicians are Scott Elliott on Keyboard, Ron McGowan on Percussion and Ron Weaver on Bass and Guitar. Aubrey Pond is the Assistant Director, Pete Welter is in charge of Sound and Power Point with assistance from Jesse Morris and Jim Swinkola is in charge of publicity.