Jesus (Dane Stewart) and John the Baptist (Elizabeth Conway). (Tristan Brand / Courtesy of Beautiful City Theatre)
Jesus (Dane Stewart) and John the Baptist (Elizabeth Conway). (Tristan Brand / Courtesy of Beautiful City Theatre)

Jesus Christ, superstars

a/Arts & Entertainment by

Beautiful City Theatre’s production of Godspell, the hit broadway musical, promises to be a unique experience. It presents the life of Jesus through a series of parables from the Gospel of Matthew. However, this shouldn’t discourage the non-believers—the company holds humanistic values and asserts that many different themes can be found throughout.

Godspell is very much a demonstration of the McGill community’s participation in Montreal’s world of professional theatre. Several members of the cast, like Dane Stewart (Jesus) and Elizabeth Conway (John; Judas), are current students. Moreover, the two founders of Beautiful City, Calli ArmSstrong and Natalie Gershtein also studied at McGill. Even a McGill professor, Myrna Wyatt Selkirk, was involved and led workshops for the actors.

According to Armstrong, who also directed the show, McGill’s theatre community is invaluable, because it “allows people to develop their ideas and learn all aspects of theatre.”

Armstrong describes Beautiful City as a “process-oriented company.” One of the musical’s main themes is about a group of people coming together. In order to demonstrate this on stage, the company spent several weeks engaged in group activities, following the script reads. In addition, each actor was encouraged to develop their own child-like character that was independent of themselves, but nonetheless still inspired by personal experiences.

The script itself allows this sort of method to be implemented on the production itself. Only two of the actors—Stewart and Conway—actually play named characters. The original Godspell was developed with the participation of its original actors, who lent their names to the characters they portray. There is a general ambiguity about elements in the original script that has allowed this work to have many varying iterations. This opens the piece to interpretation and gives creative licence that can be used to present mandates like Beautiful City’s, which seeks to examine humanity and its interactions.

One of the ambiguous elements is the set itself. Beautiful City continues in the same vein as past productions by refraining from explicitly discussing the location. Instead, it chooses to create an atmosphere of play and childhood. This story is used as a venue to introduce lively characters and examine the universal themes of the development of independence and sexuality. In doing so, Godspell becomes instantly accessible to anyone—from a university student to a theatre aficionado. It also shies away from presenting the parables exactly as the Bible does, but rather, delivers a new twist to the way they are presented.

The musical promises a uniques experience: the show goes outside the realms of conventionality by breaking the fourth wall and including improvised elements. In short, every single performance will be unique and fresh.

As Armstrong says, “Aside from it being very thought-provoking, it’s a lot of fun. It’s something to be experienced.”


Beautiful City Theatre’s production of Godspell runs from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 7:30 p.m. at Centaur Theatre (453 St. François-Xavier). Student admission $20.