By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Father James Vrba prepared the way of the Lord dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and with his hair mussed up. The Lord, Father Ross Epping, wore fashionable jeans, a white T-shirt and sandals. When each one opened his mouth to sing, I knew this production of “Godspell,” performed by parishioners of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, would be unforgettable.
Frs. Vrba and Epping, the parish’s pastor and parochial vicar, have an amazing gift for singing. So, I didn’t hesitate to change my Lenten plans to be able to attend the free musical, the parish’s gift to the community the weekend of March 2-4. Another draw for me: Musical Director Eleanor Kiel who, like Fr. Epping, serves on The Catholic Messenger’s Editorial Board. She also has a fabulous voice. Her sparkly purple cap with green rim and colorful bellbottom pants fit her perky performance in Godspell.
All of the cast members and musicians performed with such passion and energy. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the storyline, and the songs that transported me back to my teen years when Godspell hit the stage. My all-girls school — St. Francis High School in Little Falls, Minn. — performed this musical adaptation of St. Matthew’s Gospel when I was a sophomore in 1974.
A two-page spread on that production appears in my high school yearbook. A passage from the spread reads: “Character(s) spotted and spangled in fishnet, suspenders, roller skates, overalls, stripes, and clown-like makeup, portrayed the parables in delightfully absurd humor pantomime, softshoe and slapstick, rock and gentle folk music.”
Although the St. John Vianney cast didn’t wear clown-like makeup or circle the stage in roller skates, their performances were absurd, delightful and humorous. This production included a children’s choir whose participants performed with abandon. “We hope that this lively interpretation of the life of Jesus’ public ministry will deepen your gift of faith, especially during this holy season of Lent,” Fr. Vrba wrote in the program. Mission accomplished, at least in my personal experience.
Director Kailey Ackermann wrote that St. John Vianney’s presentation of Godspell “mirrors the community of the church. Not one follower in the cast is more important than another. Like pieces of a puzzle, each person may look different and have different ways to fit in, but the picture is not complete without every piece. The writer’s goal was for the cast to become a community through the teachings of Jesus, and to continue to grow as such even after he is gone.”
That sense of community extended to the audience. I attended the Friday night performance with two friends from my parish and the 20-year-old friend of one of them. The younger woman enjoyed Godspell as much as we did. During intermission, I ran into a couple I’ve known for years who belong to a Lutheran church. The husband said he loves Godspell, and planned to play the songs on his piano when he got home. I enjoyed fellowship with other friends and acquaintances as well during intermission. Jesus was big on fellowship!
One of my Lenten promises is to make more time for spiritual enrichment through Scripture reading and other activities. St. John Vianney’s production of Godspell proved to be an unexpected pleasure in the fulfillment of that promise. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one leaving the church with the songs from Godspell playing in my head.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)