WESTFIELD, NJ — Although the presentation will be virtual this weekend, Westfield High School’s production of the musical “Godspell” marks the first time in over a year the school’s student stars have been able to perform together in person.
With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, students began rehearsing remotely during the winter months, with in-person rehearsals beginning just a few weeks before performances were recorded for streaming. Students recorded songs in advance of in-person rehearsals, so sound quality could be maintained as students performed safely on-stage wearing masks.
“It was an added challenge for the students to record the tracks all separately,” said Westfield High School Choir Director John Brzowzowski, who provided musical direction for the show. “The kids rose to the challenge and were able to create fantastic music together, even though they were apart.
“After the music was recorded by the singers online, we compiled all the tracks and together with the help of WHS student Ben Zakharenko and his team, and we were able to sculpt the music into ‘soundtrack quality’ tracks.”
First produced on Broadway in 1971, the musical portrays a small group who help Jesus tell various parables using an array of storytelling techniques and a dose of comic timing in songs with styles ranging from pop to vaudeville.
Westfield High School Theater Director Daniel Devlin pointed to the play’s community-oriented messages.
“Our focus as a cast has been on the universal messages of the story — the significance of reestablishing a sense of community, treating other people with respect and dignity and working together to resolve problems,” Devlin said in a news release. “Obviously, as we all work to return to some semblance of normal during the COVID pandemic, the message of community is one that greatly resonated with most of the members of our theater department, who finally had the opportunity to perform together for the first time in over a year.”
Westfield High School senior Sophie Tananbaum plays the character Robin, a portrayal of one of Jesus’ apostles.
“It was magical to be back on stage with my friends,” said Tananbaum, who in the fall will be attending the NYU Gallatin School, where she plans to study film and literature. “I think what we’ve missed most of all has been the social aspect of performing, so it was truly amazing. We were able to get on stage about three weeks before filming began, and we just did what we had to do.”
Samantha Simpson choreographed and recorded dances at her studio, Theatrical Artist’s Prep in Scotch Plains, and then shared them with students to learn on their own before in-person rehearsals began.
“The kids were rock stars,” Simpson said. “I trust in their talent and professionalism, and they all took the initiative and learned all the dances. We had a lot of obstacles with COVID, but I knew if I approached the show in the same way, I do every year, they would be able to do it. It’s a full-scale production.”
Westfield High School senior Matt Meixner plays Jesus in the production.
“The cast, crew and adult production team put so much work into the show,” said Meixner, who will studying musical theater at The Hartt School in the fall. “So by the time we got on stage, we were prepared. People knew their stuff, and we all were ready. It was hard work but it paid off. I think everyone was just grateful to have a moment on stage.”
If you go
Tickets for the prerecorded musical, which will stream Friday, April 30, and Saturday, May 1, at 7:30 p.m., are available at www.westfieldperformingarts.org. Tickets are $14 per device.
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