DENVILLE, NJ -- For the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't been a great time for the arts. With mostly cancellations or virtual versions, things like school musicals haven't been the same.

Yet, for the drama students of Morris Knolls High School, there will be a spring production of the Broadway classic "Godspell," with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and the book by John-Michael Tebelak.

In March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, Morris Knolls drama students had to cancel their then-spring production of "Once Upon a Mattress." By the time summer had passed, students were able to perform plays again, including virtual productions of "Ten Ways to Survive" and "I Love You."

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Now with spring back in full swing, it is time for redemption and renewed optimism, filled in between with musical cues.

"We started rehearsing music in person and virtually two days a week from early February to mid-March. Then we began the staging and choreography," said Morris Knolls's musical director. ""It has been a challenge rehearsing with masks and socially distant, but the students in both the cast and crew have been extremely dedicated."

Indeed, the students of Morris Knolls have been dedicated to bringing this musical to the stage. Though virtual, they were all excited to hold this occasion.

"It is a relief to get out and do what I love after spending over a year in lockdown at home," said 17-year-old Julia Bachman, who acts as the student director.

"Theater is a source of happiness to many people, and I am so glad to be able to bring it virtually to an audience for them to enjoy as well. It has been one of the most amazing, fun, and unique experiences and opportunities I have ever had at Morris Knolls. I have learned so much from working behind the scenes and am excited to see the amazing final product."

Bachman has performed in four plays at Morris Knolls, along with six choir concerts. This will be her first time helping to direct a show. Performer Elizabeth Pietrucha, a 17-year-old junior who plays the role of Lizz and sings the signature song "Day by Day," has also found the musical production gratifying yet challenging compared to others in the past. Yet, with the messages of "Godspell" teaching her fellow schoolmates about love and harmony, she and everyone strives to not only be better performers, but better people in general. 

"I am forever thankful to be able to be performing at all let alone live in the Morris Knolls Theatre," said Pietrucha.

"I know of so many schools that are forced to perform virtually, and some that cannot perform at all due to loss of money after last year's cancellation. 'Godspell' isn't the show that we were planning on performing, but now that we are less than a month away from opening night, I wouldn't change a thing. I think I can speak for the entire cast and crew when I say thank you to the Morris Knolls administration as well as our beloved director Sharon Garry for making this experience a positive thing, let alone making it even possible."

"Godspell" is structured as a series of parables, primarily based on the Gospel of Matthew, and are interspersed with music set primarily to lyrics from traditional hymns. With the musical featuring non-Biblical characters, Morris Knolls students use their own names and assigned character traits, making them an ensemble cast. Such a platform has encouraged each student to create their own persona and push limits. Sixteen-year-old sophomore Elijah Dor, who plays the role of George, considers this musical production both experimental and inspirational.

"Although it is not the same as I am used to doing productions at school, it has taught me the importance of community, dedication and perseverance through difficult times," said Dor.

"It feels so strange having to do this in the middle of a pandemic, not seeing anyone's face and having to social distance away from each other. At the same time, I think it has brought me closer to my classmates and crew because we all have one goal which makes me feel less alone. This just showed me that if we can do this through a pandemic, then we can do anything."

Dor has worked on other school plays at Morris Knolls, such as "Once Upon a Mattress" and "Sweeney Todd," and on the outside, such as "Singing in the Rain," "Peter Pan" and "Guys and Dolls."

"It is so gratifying to give our talented students an opportunity to perform," said director Garry.

Garry has been teaching theatre arts for the past 21 years and has more than 30 years' experience acting and directing in professional theatre throughout New Jersey. During her tenure at Morris Knolls, she has directed the last 16 musicals and has taught theatre arts and international baccalaureate theatre.

Garry's drama students have participated and been recognized in the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Competition, the New Jersey Governor’s Award Theatre Competition, Teen Arts Festival, Montclair State University Theatre Festival and the English Speaking Union National Council Shakespeare Competition.

"Godspell" will be live-streamed on April 29 and 30, and on May 1, all at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/49375.

 

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