Community theater at its finest is showcased in the upcoming musical, "Godspell." Performed through a partnership between Westfield High and Centreville Presbyterian Church, the show contains local theater students, church members, area residents and a former Broadway professional.
"IT'S A COOL blend of adults and children; I love how it's intergenerational," said Director Zoe Dillard, a member of the church and an accomplished theater director at Westfield. "Besides lots of talented adults, we have wonderful students from Westfield and Centreville high schools, Stone and Rocky Run middle schools and some elementary schools."
Show times are Friday-Saturday, March 23-24, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 25, at 2 p.m., at the church, 15450 Lee Highway in Centreville. Tickets are $10. Contact Don Halterman at 703-830-0098 or www.centrevillepres.com.
Gate Post Estates' Don Halterman, Centreville Presbyterian's director of praise and worship, asked Dillard if she'd like to do a joint production combining the talents of the church members and Westfield's students. And the idea for the show was born.
"One of the church goals is outreach in the community," he explained. "We both love musicals, and 'Godspell' is a good one because it's about community and joy. It's about Jesus developing his community of friends and disciples, and the joys they experienced within that community."
Local musicians will provide the music on guitar, bass, synthesizer, piano, organ and drums. Halterman's the organist. His favorite song in the show is "On the Willows," performed during the Last Supper scene: "It's very reflective and contemplative — thinking about what Jesus went through and the crucifixion about to happen."
He said the audience will appreciate the variety of theater skills employed during the show, including charades, puppets and comedy. "The whole cast is on stage, the whole time, and has to stay in character," said Halterman. "But things are going great because we started tryouts last summer and the cast members now know each other well."
Church organist Kent Washburn is the musical's pianist, and his favorite song is "Turn Back, O, Man," because "it's a big, piano festival." He's also excited that the show contains "a lot of undeniable energy."
"It's a lot of work, but lots of fun, at the same time," he said. "Working with some of the younger kids, you're worried how they'll do. But when they hit their marks, it's amazing."
Actually, the hardest thing for Washburn is finding time for rehearsals since he and his wife have a 6-month-old, baby girl. But he likes being part of the production because "everyone contributes whatever they have. There's a lot of improvisation, so every idea is considered — and most of them make it."
WESTFIELD HIGH grad and noted guitarist Peter Douskalis, 20, is majoring in jazz studies at Shenandoah University Conservatory. He's also playing guitar for "Godspell." Halterman's a neighbor of his, and Douskalis previously played guitar during Centreville Presbyterian's Christmas Eve services.
"So when Don asked if I wanted to help, I said yes," said Douskalis. "I figured it would be fun and I really like to play guitar. And it's good company, good people and a fun play. My high school did it when I was a freshman, and I always remembered it."
Drummer Randy Bergquist of Rocky Run works for the federal Department of Justice and holds a music degree from Shenandoah Conservancy. He also plays drums in the church's praise band and loves being in "Godspell."
"It's bringing back lots of memories for me," he said. "I played drums for my high school when it did 'Jesus Christ Superstar.' And it's fun being with the youth and meeting a lot of new people both inside and outside of the church."
Bergquist says the audience will like Dillard's interpretation of "Godspell" and will be able to "laugh and cry and, hopefully, leave here with a very spiritual feeling. I hope it'll also draw people to visit our church on Sunday and see how worshipful and open we are, the family atmosphere and how much we enjoy each other."
Church member Bill Kamm, who's created scenery for community theater for years, in various places, volunteered to design and build the set. And, said Dillard, "He's doing a backdrop of the Centreville/Chantilly community, so the sense of community from ancient times will come forward into modern day."
Westfield High junior Garrett Henson portrays Jesus. "It's definitely a challenge for me," he said. "I'm used to playing minor or ensemble parts, so playing the lead is the next step." The toughest part is memorizing all his lines.
"Being the leader of the show, I'm on stage most of the time," he explained. "And most of my lines are from the Bible, so I can't paraphrase them or switch them around. And being in a church, people would know if I messed up."
What Henson likes best is that "the character is very joyous and happy and is a teacher and a friend — and that's me in real life, so it wasn't too much of a stretch. And it's a great opportunity for an actor to be in a show this amazing."
His favorite song is "Save the People." It introduces Jesus to the show and, said Henson, "It's such a happy, uplifting, upbeat song that's very fun to sing and perform." Overall, he said the audience will find "Godspell" very entertaining. "It has a powerful message of Jesus Christ, and it's great to be able to pass it on," said Henson. "It's also a cool chance to take, putting yourself out there on stage."
Playing both Judas and John the Baptist is Westfield junior Nick Cirillo. "I start out as John and then turn into Judas," he said. "I love playing Judas, although it's difficult. You think of Judas as bad, but he was actually an enthusiastic follower of Jesus, and I want to show that, as well as his betrayal side."
Furthermore, said Cirillo, "Everybody is really happy in this show, but I'm different. I'm the 'Negative Nelly' who goes off in a corner and watches with an aggravated face." He says the audience will enjoy the show's energy "and how the story of Jesus and what he taught was brought into more modern terms, with a comic twist to it so they'll understand and like it."
ALSO BRINGING her considerable talents to this production is Anne Ermlick of the Centre Ridge Regent community. She attended the American Dramatic Academy in New York and sang and danced professionally in the mid-late 1980s. She was in six, off-Broadway shows and performed in "42nd Street" on Broadway.
In "Godspell," she plays Joanne, a disciple and one of the main characters. And she sings the solo number, "Bless the Lord, My Soul." Her daughter Heidi, a Centreville High junior, sings three songs, along with other people, and choreographed her mom's solo plus the number, "Light of the World."
"It's fun to get back into theater again," said Ermlick. "I've been home raising my family [including son Billy, a Liberty Middle student] and helping my husband. But I love this show; everyone's really nice and Don and Zoe are amazing. I'm joining this church."
Ermlick likes her solo because it's more like an alto or mezzo soprano, which is a different range for her. And she has high praise for Henson. "The audience will really like Garrett as Jesus," she said. "They'll be amazed that he's a junior in high school — he was born to play this role."
Sammy Luffy, a Westfield senior, portrays Robin, one of Jesus' closest disciples in the show. "I'm childlike and am one of the first to realize who he is, and I do it in my song, 'Day by Day,'" she said. "I also like the song 'By My Side' because it's really emotional and is saying we want to be with Jesus, which I think is really cool."
Luffy says the audience will like the show's fast pace and youthful joy: "The adults have the same amount of energy as the kids, so we all feed off of each other. And it's fun running around and being crazy."
Centre Ridge resident Sara Hoffman plays an adultress named Sonia. "She's very vampy and tries to come on to men," said Hoffman. "She's seductive and facetiously sings the song, 'Turn Back, O, Man.' It's a Vaudevillian tune about a man trying to change his evil ways, and I get to wear a red boa."
She said Jesus tries to teach several lessons and uses Sonia as an example of how not to be. "It's an awful lot of fun," said Hoffman. "The whole cast is great, and I love being part of the play. And the song gives me the freedom to be vampy when I ordinarily wouldn't be. However, having gyrating hips and dancing seductively feels very inappropriate in the church, but it's in good fun."
Westfield freshman Phoebe Dillard is part of the ensemble that loves Jesus and wants to learn about him. She's enjoying herself, but says it's different working on a show for so long — they've been rehearsing since September — and acting with adults. "They're more experienced, so you're more self-conscious," she said.
Her favorite song is the one she sings to Jesus, "By My Side." Said Dillard: "He saved me from being stoned to death, and I'm thanking him and telling him, 'Don't leave me; I want to be by your side.'"
JUSTIN BROMHEAD, 26, son of Centreville Presbyterian pastor Rob Bromhead and a graduate of Centreville High and Liberty University, plays Jeffrey, the class clown. (He's also a Pharisee in Act II).
"Jeffrey's real excited and outgoing, and I love playing this role," said Bromhead. "It fits my personality perfectly, and that's one of the things that drew me to the play. I love doing comedy, and this is a great comedic play."
He likes not having many lines to memorize and getting to move around a lot on stage. His favorite tune is "We Beseech Thee" because "it has great rhythm and is the last happy song before the crucifixion and sets up what's going to happen."
Bromhead said the show presents the Bible stories in an easy-to-understand and comical way so "those not as familiar with the parables will understand them better after this production. And kids can understand and relate to it, too."
Director Zoe Dillard said everyone connected with the show has been working really hard and has stayed focused and committed for more than six months. "It's a very giving, caring and talented group of people, and I appreciate their dedication," she said.
Besides that, said Dillard, "I think their love of the show and the joy they have, and will create onstage, will be a gift to the audience. The beauty of 'Godspell' — because it's so open to interpretation — is that it makes a unique connection to each person who sees it. The thing transcending everything is the joy, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to work with all these wonderful people."