, Newburyport, MA


May 8, 2014

A community effort

Theater companies, cast of 55 join forces to present 'Godspell'

It started out as a promise to a friend — his dying wish, as it turns out.

“Do ‘Godspell’ with 100 people,” David Farwell urged director Anna Smulowitz when she asked him if there was anything she could do for him while visiting his bedside shortly before his death.

For Smulowitz, who is celebrating her 35th year of theater in Newburyport, Farwell had always been that “go-to” actor she could count on to lead her productions.

“I told him I would,” she said. “I promised.”

The director is poised to fulfill that promise this weekend when Smulowitz Productions — in collaboration with Acting Out! Productions — presents “Godspell” at Hope Community Church.

Smulowitz believes Farwell’s aim was to gently push her into producing a piece that was on a scale grand enough to provide her some financial relief in an industry where the battle to stay fiscally afloat is always a struggle.

But ultimately, she said, the process has given her, assistant directors John and Deidre Budzyna, and everyone else involved riches that will far exceed whatever box office earnings are realized this weekend.

Written by Stephen Schwartz, “Godspell” is a musical retelling of the Gospel according to Matthew and opened on Broadway in 1971. Its Tony-nominated score features hummable hits like “Day by Day” and “Turn Back, O Man.”

John Budzyna, who plays Jesus, admits that when Smulowitz asked him to reprise a role she had originally cast him in 14 years ago, his initial thought was, “I’m too old.”

“Jesus was 33, and I’m 47,” he said. “But Anna has a vision, and I’m humbled to be a part of it.”

With musical direction by Johanna Dickson and choreography by Linda Zirin, the 55-member cast includes children as young as 5. To reach Farwell’s goal of 100 people, Smulowitz also counts others contributing to the creative process: the technical crew, volunteers selling program advertisements and local business owners who bought the ads. That’s community theater in its best sense, she said.

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