Friday, June 3, 2011

Godspell – Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church (Aug 2009)

 And you always thought the words sounded familiar...

A staple in high school drama departments, few Godspell actors may know that many of the words they are singing are actually from the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal.  It's because Godspell was conceived by a lifelong Episcopalian named John-Michael Tebelak. 

The story goes that the 22 year-old Tebelak, who was working on his Master's Thesis at Carnegie Mellon University, attended an Easter Vigil service at St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh in 1970.  He wore overalls and a t-shirt (drama student attire) prompting a cop to search him for drugs after the service, "I left with the feeling that, rather than rolling the rock away from the Tomb, they were piling more on.  I went home, took out my manuscript, and worked it to completion in a non-stop frenzy."

Tebelak used St. Matthew and the 1940 Hymnal as his inspiration for weaving together various parables into a memorably cohesive musical production.  Following its run on the college stage he took it to New York City eventually teaming up with Stephen Swartz (also a CMU grad) where the final production became one of the longest running shows on Broadway.

Tebelak went on to work at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where he would lend his talents to liturgical drama.  He died of a heart attack at age 35.

While most of us will never get the chance to meld the Gospel into our work in such an obvious (and hugely successful) way, our faith still calls us to use the words we hear and sing on Sundays to find a place in our souls and, in some way, to change the world.  How are these words working in us today?  How is Christ asking us to carry the Gospel message onto our stage?

Thanks to Kempton Baldridge for organizing a group to honor the 40th anniversary of Godspell, you can join it at:

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