After seven seasons as promiscuous pot dealer Silas Botwin on Showtime's "Weeds," Hunter Parrish is atoning for his on-camera sins by playing Jesus in the first Broadway revival of Godspell, Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak's popular rock musical based on parables from the Gospel of Matthew. A long-running Off-Broadway hit that premiered in 1971, Godspell originally transferred to Broadway in 1976 and was also adapted into a 1973 film. Director Daniel Goldstein has reassembled the design team of his acclaimed 2006 Paper Mill Playhouse production for the new revival, which officially opens Nov. 7 at the Circle in the Square Theatre (adjacent to Schwartz's Wicked at the Gershwin). Parrish, 24, who made his Broadway debut in 2008 as Melchior Gabor in the final cast of Spring Awakening, details his personal relationship to Jesus and how it prepared him for such an almighty part.
How familiar were you with Godspell before you got cast in the new revival?
Hunter Parrish: Not very. I'd seen the movie a long time ago, maybe when I was in 8th or 9th grade, because it's one of my best friends' favorite movies. It's been really exciting to rediscover it and really get into it.
So you're one of the few actors who never did Godspell in high school or community theatre.
HP: I'm one of the few people — not even actors. I swear, it seems like everybody has done the show. Every place I go, someone's done Godspell at some point. I'm getting my haircut the other day, and the guy's like, "Oh, I did that show." It's awesome, and it's so cool to hear. It's exciting to know how many people might be ready to revisit or re-experience it.
|photo by Jeremy Daniel|
Do you feel any pressure because people have preconceived notions and expectations about the material?
HP: Yeah, but the added pressure really comes from trying to reverse peoples' opinions that Godspell is just a religious show about Jesus that comes off as very preachy. Releasing all of that from peoples' minds is more of the battle we're facing.
Many people associate Godspell with the hippy clowns in the original production, but it's a musical that easily lends itself to a director's fresh interpretation. How would you describe Daniel Goldstein's interpretation?
HP: Well, there are no clowns anymore — or, as Danny Goldstein says, "We're still clowns, but we don't have on the makeup and goofy shoes." It's really about finding your inner clown, and that was an important part of his direction. We as people — as Americans in particular — have learned to cover up our clown makeup, and this show is about uncovering the clown we have inside of us. Our production brings us into the modern day, which makes it more real, relevant, and relatable.
Many "Weeds" fans will come to see you in Godspell, which means there might be some stoners in the audience. Will they enjoy a Godspell without the hippy clowns?
HP: Absolutely. The mindset that's sort of synonymous with pot smokers is, "Relax, man. Enjoy life, spread love, and be cool." Though we've made a departure from the flowery Godspell of the '70s, that way of thinking is still greatly weaved into the story. You can't walk away from the show and not feel happy, energized, and ready to take on the world with a new perspective.
What was your rehearsal process like?
HP: When I first talked to Danny and Ken Davenport, our producer, they made it very clear that the show would be an ensemble and a community. From day one, when we got into the rehearsal space, we basically just goofed around — well, what we thought was goofing around. We actually ended up blocking half the show just through that improvisation, using each other and our teamwork to build relationships and find beautiful moments. It's absolutely been a piece where all 14 of us in the cast — including four swings — can express the different funny bits of who we are, and that's a rare thing.
How hands-on was Stephen Schwartz during rehearsals?
HP: Hands-on is exactly how you would describe him, and it's been the greatest honor. I feel like with some revivals, the original creators are sometimes just counting their dollars and not really caring, but he was at our rehearsals, sharing his insight, and revamping the music with our orchestrator, Michael Holland, who is absolutely genius. He's guided us as actors so much, and it's so important to know that you're being backed by the person who created the material you're doing. He couldn't be greater of a man or more humbled by this opportunity as a composer. He wrote this show when he was 23, 24, which is about the same age that we all are in the cast, so it's been nostalgic for him as well. It's exciting to see him enjoying this moment of his life.
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