Potomac Playmakers to stage 'Godspell' in Hagerstown and Williamsport
According to Valorie Phillips, “Godspell” is the story of a world of chaos and confusion, into which Jesus enters and builds community and teaches about the Gospel.
“And so he brings the community together, to see and watch and learn, and it tells the story of love and hope,” she said.
Phillips is the director of The Potomac Playmakers’ production of “Godspell,” which runs Friday, Sept. 14, through Sunday, Sept. 16, at The Women’s Club on South Prospect Street in Hagerstown, and Friday, Sept. 21, through Sunday, Sept. 23, at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Williamsport.
Composed by Stephen Schwartz and written by John-Michael Tebelak, “Godspell” is a musical that opened off-Broadway in 1971, and has been produced by numerous touring companies and revivals.
Audiences of all faith heritages can relate to and enjoy the show, Phillips said.
“We’ve brought as many popular cultural references from today into the storytelling as we could,” she said. “There’s the ‘Cha Cha Slide,’ ‘Indiana Jones,’ and ‘Star Wars.’ We brought that into it, and it helps to tell the story.”
Various productions of “Godspell” weave in elements of past productions, Phillips said.
“Everyone who is involved in theater, everyone who does a certain number of shows, has probably done or been involved with a production of ‘Godspell.’ Everyone brings their own stories, their own bits, that you completely reapply, or steal,” she said, laughing.
The Potomac Playmakers cast is no different, she said, with many members having past involvement with the show.
“They’ve brought a wealth of bits to use to bring it to life,” she said.
Phillips, who moved from Kansas City, Mo., to Charles Town, W.Va., in February for her human-resources work with Procter & Gamble Co. in Martinsburg, W.Va., said members of her family play into her experience with “Godspell.” She performed in the show as a senior at Tarkio College, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical-theater performance. Her husband, Tim Phillips, has been in the show, and her daughter, Madison Dodd, 21, who just earned a BFA in acting, did the show when she was 13. Phillips’ younger daughter, Danielle Dodd, 18, studies lighting design at University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
“One of the great things about this show is every cast I’ve ever known — I think I did it almost 30 years ago — and I’m still in touch with the man who played Jesus, and I’m basically friends with every other cast member still,” she said. “It builds a sense of community that you maintain your entire life.”
The same is true for her husband and the cast with which he performed.
“Every person in the cast of ‘Godspell,’ there is just this super-special bonding,” she said. “There are moments of the show that it’s palpable, where you can feel the connectedness of the cast.”
The Potomac Playmakers cast is headed by Dustin McQuaid, who portrays Jesus, along with Colt Smith as Judas.
“There are eight other people, all of whom never leave the stage. They are in every number. It is truly an ensemble show,” Phillips said.
Ruthy Stenger Japzon is musical director of the production and Allison Banzhoff is the choreographer. The ensemble is comprised of Renee Emanuel, Katie Fenley, Stephanie Heward, Anna Lynch, Lexi Oliver, Andrew Shifler, Nic Sigman and Devin Taylor. Popular songs from “Godspell” include “Day by Day,” “Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord)” and “Learn Your Lessons Well.”
“I’m very partial to ‘All Good Gifts,’” Phillips said. “It’s a beautiful ballad, and the finale of this show is very emotional, and so there is rarely a dry eye onstage. It’s the end of the journey and it’s really moving.”
The Playmakers was founded in 1926, and is one of the nation’s longest-running active community-theater groups. For most of that time, the troupe rented space from The Women’s Club on South Prospect Street in Hagerstown. The troupe purchased the former Cedar Lawn Missionary Church at 17303 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown in December 2017 and is in the process of renovating the building to become its new home. The first weekend of “Godspell” will mark the group’s last regular-season performance at The Women’s Club. Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Williamsport will serve as a transitional space for the show.
“This community group hasn’t had a space, so it’s exciting to know that it has a space that is going to open,” Phillips said. “I think it will be a great asset for the community of Hagerstown for years to come.”
Top photo: Dustin McQuaid as Jesus, left, and Colt Smith as Judas/John the Baptist rehearse for the Potomac Playmakers production of "Godspell." (Photo by Jim Zuna)