ISU Theatre’s ‘Godspell’ aims to adapt a classic for a modern audience

Emily Heckle strikes a pose during the dress rehearsal of “Godspell.” Heckle has participated in eight ISU Theatre productions over the past four years. 

Averi Baudler

Art often has an ability to convey important and timely themes to vast audiences no matter how old the source material may be. “Godspell,” a musical that originally premiered in 1971, will be doing just that as it brings messages of inclusivity and love to Iowa State’s Fisher Theater in the coming weekends. 

“Godspell” centers around Jesus, Judas/John the Baptist and a group of diverse individuals, otherwise known as ‘storytellers,’ as they sing and dance their way through parables of the Book of Matthew. Though the show contains religious roots, the cast and crew of Iowa State’s production have strived to make “Godspell” applicable to the modern audiences of today.

“Many of the stories [from the show] are well known but hard to internalize in a present-day context,” said Emily Heckle, a junior who plays one of the storytellers. “Our cast and crew has been challenged with the task of creating a work of art that respects the ideas and morals of the parables while also making them relatable to a diverse crowd.”

Ryan Foreman, a senior in music, playing the role of a storyteller, agreed the main goal for the cast and crew is changing the message of the show to be more relevant to college students.

“To me, ‘Godspell’ is a community coming together and putting aside our differences, realizing our own faults and above all else loving everyone, period,” Foreman said. “With such a divisive culture we live in, it’s important to remember we are all humans and we all crave the sense to belong to something greater than ourselves.” 

“Godspell” is unique in that there are only two traditional characters: Jesus and Judas/John. The other storytellers are not so much characters as they are an extension of the actors themselves. Heckle said this aspect has been one of the most challenging parts of preparing for the show.

“It’s been a complicated process to find out the similarities and differences between ‘character Emily’ and ‘real Emily,’” Heckle said. “We’ve been able to use our own backgrounds and differing views to craft our story on stage, and for every character there are lessons that come easily and others that we struggle with. But in the end it is the message of love that ties us together as a community.”

Nicolas Ronkar, a sophomore in kinesiology, plays one of the two traditional roles in the show as Judas/John. Ronkar says that his favorite part of “Godspell” is getting to share the important themes with audiences through performance.

“My favorite part of being in this show is the message that it sends,” Ronkar said. “It feels incredible to be a part of something bigger, something that stands for a message and something that stands for us.”

The cast and crew of “Godspell” say they hope to put up a mirror to audiences to reflect on what is currently going on in the world.

“I think people should see ‘Godspell’ because it really speaks a message of what we need in this world today,” Foreman said. “With so much political divide and hatred in the world, it’s easy to pick sides and get caught up in the fear and anger that’s thrown around from all directions. Sometimes we need a reminder that we aren’t all so different after all and wonder if we just held a mirror up to ourselves, would we be proud of who we see in the reflection?”

“Godspell” opens this weekend, with performances on April 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and April 7 and 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets available through Iowa State Center Ticket Office, any Ticketmaster, or the Fisher Theater box office prior to performances. Tickets are $25 for adults and seniors, $16 for students.