Saturday, August 23, 2014

Memo From The RTC: The Road to “Godspell”

Nora Meyers, Kim Simek, Frank Caiati, Gabrielle Mangano,  Jeff and Heather Arzsberger

Published in The Wave, August 22, 2014.

Memo From The RTC: The Road to “Godspell”
By Norm Scott, with Frank Caiati

Under the direction of master builder Tony Homsey, the set for the RTC production of Godspell, opening Sept. 12, is almost complete (with a lot of painting still to be done). Choreographer Gabrielle Mangano, who teaches dance and choreography for the RTC's Young Adult's Workshop, emailed, “It is going to be a very powerful show. I think it will shock a lot of people. The talent within both the production crew and cast is unparalleled to any show I've worked on and I've been apart of the RTC for 12 years.” One actor told me that Gabrielle’s choreography requires the cast to do all sorts of stunts and acrobatics. “She’s kicking our ass, but it is one of the most exciting shows I’ve been in.”

When I stopped by the theater on Saturday, Director Frank Caiati was working with Tony to install the brick walls on the set. I couldn’t resist hanging around to work with them. Frank, 28, was my acting teacher and I would never have had the nerve to be in a show without his encouragement. When I first met Frank, it was his acting that blew me away. Then came his directing of a number of shows and then we find out he is a master set designer too.

Frank is putting together an original concept for the play. It will take place outside a factory. The set is built to simulate that environment. There is a massive, what I’ll appropriately term, given the subject of the show, “stairway to heaven.” And all kinds of interesting structures on stage – ladders, a loading dock, and more.

Frank has put together a top-level creative team. In addition to Gabrielle, Jeff and Heather Arzberger as musical directors, Kim Simek, just off her triumph as Louise in Gypsy, is the Assistant Director, and the always essential Nora Meyers as the Stage Manager. They all are teachers in the NYC public schools (other than Gabrielle). [See photo - from left to right - Nora, Kim, Frank, Gabrielle, Jeff, Heather].

I asked Frank for his thoughts on the show and he responded in this email.

The show is composed of various musical parables from The Gospel According to Matthew. Jesus recruits a group of followers and teaches them various lessons through song and dance. Toward the end of the second act, the show begins to follow a more linear narrative as Jesus is betrayed by Judas and eventually crucified.

Godspell appeals to me as a director because of the unique way it mixes high-energy contemporary musical theatre with moments of quiet poignancy. The show is basic storytelling at its best, at times even involving a few audience members in the process!

The Godspell cast and creative team all sincerely LOVE this show. That kind of energy and dedication is infectious at rehearsals.

What makes Godspell so unique is that the script is open to the director's interpretation and concept of the material. The playwright demands that the show feel industrial, citing the original 1970's staging which utilized a minimal set and a chain-link fence. Our production embraces this industrial feel with a highly detailed and realistic warehouse set that boasts Broadway-caliber lighting and special effects. Regarding costume design, the original production utilized a clownish/hippie type wardrobe, while our Godspell costume design focuses on quirky colorful costumes with a steampunk/ industrial edge.

Right now we are busy in the throes of production. The set is being painted, lighting designs are being created, custom sound designs are being recorded, costumes are being pulled from our vast stock and getting fitted to the actors, staging and choreography is being taught in full swing, and music is being perfected.

Why should people come to Godspell? It is a fun, emotional, and deeply impactful piece of the theatre. No matter your personal beliefs, Godspell transcends religion and addresses timeless themes of love, loyalty, trust, and peace. The "renewal" theme of Godspell is especially apropos to our Rockaway community post-Sandy.

Godspell boasts an eclectic rock score by Stephen Schwartz, composer of Broadway's Wicked and Pippin. Audiences will be delighted to hear familiar songs, "Day by Day", "Bless the Lord My Soul", and "Beautiful City."

Godspell runs at the Rockaway Theatre Company Sept. 12, 13, 19, 20, 26, 27 at 8:00pm and Sept. 14, 21, 28 at 2:00pm. Tickets can be ordered by calling 718-374-6400 or by visiting

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