Theater preview: Gospel of Matthew updated for modern-day Richmond

Nick Bonadies
Spectrum Editor

Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre (S.A.L.T) continues its run of student-produced independent plays this weekend with “Godspell,” John Michael Tebelak’s 1970 “hit rock pop musical” based on parables from the Gospel of Matthew.

Friday and Saturday night performances will begin at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday.

“Godspell” director, Walid Chaya, received a BFA degree in theater performance from VCU.

Chaya aims to revamp the Broadway classic – best known for the 1972 chart-topper “Day by Day” – with a number of fresh innovations and twists, according to a S.A.L.T press release. For one, the role of Jesus will be played by a woman.

The parables themselves were reworked to take place in modern-day Richmond, with the set design utilizing various citywide symbols and iconic locales. Ancient stories like the “Good Samaritan” and “Prodigal Son,” according to the release, will be infused with modern pop culture references the likes of Lady Gaga and Oprah.

Likewise, the costume design – some of which was donated by local business like Rumors – was specifically chosen to reflect the Richmond sensibility. This is especially apt for the ensemble cast, who essentially “play themselves – inhabitants of Richmond.”

S.A.L.T describes the production as an “audience interactive” experience, featuring a cast of 10 actors “with a skill for improv” and promising a uniquely relatable experience.

As with all productions from S.A.L.T, “Godspell” has been entirely assembled and developed by VCU students from various backgrounds of theater studies, including director Chaya and choreographer Marie Boyette.  However, Godspell prides itself on the “new blood” it has drawn from students outside the theater department – like assistant director Ava Stone and music director Matt Jewell – allowing for a “varied and diverse collaboration with a plethora of art” as a result.

John Michael Tebelak’s Godspell will run from October 8th to the 10th at Shafer Street Playhouse, starring Maggie Horan as Jesus and Bryan Hall as Judas. Walid Chaya directs. Admission is free. Visit http://shaferalliancelabtheatre.webs.com/ for a full Shafer Street Playhouse schedule.

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