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Lilly Kopp plays the part of Joanne in 'Godspell.'

DECATUR — Although Easter has passed, the cast of the Decatur Underground Theatre is keeping Jesus’ story alive a little longer.

The local theater company will bring to the stage “Godspell” April 20-22 and 27-29 at the Decatur Civic Center.

The musical is based on the Bible parables in the Book of Matthew. “The entire show walks through the parables until the Crucifixion,” said the show’s choreographer, Kim Barding. “It does not cover the resurrection.”

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Aggie Kopp plays Gilmer in 'Godspell.'

“Godspell” started out as a college project performed by students at Carnegie Mellon in 1970. It opened on Off-Broadway the following year, and in 1973 was made into a movie with several of the actors from the original show. 

Rather than focusing directly on Jesus, the show explores the perspective of his followers, actress Rachel Riser said. 

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Olivia Swords plays Penny.

“Jesus is in it and is technically the main character, but the story focuses on the atmosphere and what it was like to be a follower,” she said. “Which is why we act out the parables. They are all visual. You hear them and see them.”

"Godspell" is a long-held goal for members of Decatur Underground, who have wanted to stage it since the success of their first show, “Jesus Christ Superstar," in 2011. They waited for the right time to do so, however, because they wanted to put some time between the shows. 

“We didn’t want to do it so close to 'Jesus Christ Superstar' that it would feel like that is our theme for the company,” Barding said.

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Ryle Frey, left and Devin Leming play the parts of Judas and Jesus in the Decatur Underground Theater's 'Godspell.'

In the original production and the 1973 movie, the characters shared names and some personality traits with the actors portraying them. For instance, Lynne Thigpen portrayed Lynne; Jeffrey Mylett was Jeffrey; and Joanne Jonas played Joanne.

The theater company actors reached out to the original performers through Facebook. “They’ve had conversations with the original Peggy and Robin,” Barding said.

“Godspell” is set in a junkyard, so the backdrop isn't elaborate. The color and excitement of the story stems from its 10 cast members. 

“The background is supposed to be bland, because (the characters) are colorful,” said actress Aggie Kopp.

“The surroundings are dull, so we are going to make it very vibrant,” said her sister Lilly Kopp. “We are going to make it a more sunshiny place.”

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The 'Godspell' cast.

As the choreographer, Barding made sure the actors were able to add their own personalities to the movements. “Some can be tame, while others can be pretty wild,” she said. “The cast has a lot of free rein and they have a ton of fun with it.”

The play has humorous elements as well. Aggie Kopp often finds herself laughing during rehearsals. “We may do something really funny and I’m trying not to laugh,” she said. “But we are supposed to be funny.”

People who don't practice the Christian faith can still enjoy the musical, Barding said. “A lot of people can relate and agree on what is taught through the show,” she said.


"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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