Author Contact, Bio, and Background with Godspell
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Carol de Giere previously wrote the Stephen Schwartz biography Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked (Applause, 2008). She is the editor of two online newsletters: The Schwartz Scene and Musical Writerzine. She is a fan of Godspell and other musicals and holds master’s degrees in library science and professional writing.
My Godspell Experience
When I first saw an acquaintance of mine, David, up on stage in the role of Jesus in Godspell, I was fascinated that, in a manner of speaking, I knew Jesus. In front of me in a high school auditorium rented by a community theatre for their production was this cheery 30-something guy and his troupe that was singing their hearts out. I was just sitting in Iowa, yet the show lifted me into an expanded space of love, and completely out of the boundaries of the moment. I had experienced this feeling before in meditation but never before in a musical.
That Iowa production was my first experience of a musical with a Stephen Schwartz score. The positive experience was one of the reasons I decided to write a book about Stephen Schwartz and subsequently explore all his works. Since then my husband and I moved east so that I could finish interviews for Defying Gravity.
One reason I started working on the Godspell book in 2010 was because I had so much enjoyed interviewing the original cast members while working on the first book. I met Sonia Manzano at a diner near her Sesame Street office, Peggy Gordon at a bistro near her NYC apartment, Robin Lamont in her beautiful home in Westchester County, and Joanne Jonas on a sandy California beach. I spoke with Stephen Nathan, Herby Braha, producer Edgar Lansbury, and many others involved with the show. There was hardly a person I interviewed who didn’t mention the “Godspell family” in some way and the love they felt.
One of my colorful meetings was with Gilmer McCormick who was in the original cast and the movie version. She and I arranged to meet during one of her NYC visits. We decided on a Greenwich Village cafe around the corner from Cherry Lane Theatre where Godspell opened. “Whenever I see a Godspell production,” I shared with Gilmer, “it’s as if the love between the actors is a nonverbal communication that directly elevates the audience.” Gilmer’s raspy low voice and steady big blue eyes had been soothing me as we conversed over pricey sandwiches. Her long ruddy blond hair framed her still youthful face. I asked, “At that time when you created the show, was there love between you guys as you worked on it and performed it?”
“Absolutely,” she replied. “We were like brothers and sisters.” The minister’s daughter had been one of the few among the group who had a strong religious upbringing and then followed the show with years of involvement with a church group in California. She continued, “It’s hard to take communion over and over and not have something of that spirit rub off. We had to break bread every night. I believe that word was a living word and it continues to live. The Gospel was a living word; it was a seed that was planted.”
Since 2000, I have seen at least a dozen different Godspell productions, watched the movie version over and over, and listened to all the recordings I could find. By now, my own mental vocabulary is filled with moments from the show. When I think of almost any expression from the Bible that is in Godspell, I mentally picture an actor in the show saying or singing it, like for “turn the other cheek” I picture David Haskell turning his cheek to Victor Garber in the movie.
One time I was driving down country roads between my house in Connecticut and the commuter train station while playing the Godspell original cast album on my car stereo. I was still new to the area and thought I may have taken a wrong turn. Just then, Sonia Manzano started to sing “Turn Back, O Man,” and sure enough, I realized I had to turn the car around and go the other way. It was a wink from the universe that reminded me how glad I was to have Godspell connections in my life.
The most important song from the show for me is “Light of the World” for two reasons: because it helps me celebrate inner light and because the song’s message has been meaningful during challenging times. Writers regularly face negative comments in critiques of drafts and take them personally, or we compare ourselves with writers who have reached higher levels of success. During times of doubt, I have sometimes wanted to put my light under a bushel and just disappear into obscurity. But then I hear the joyful and loving cast members sing “Let your light so shine before men….”
We all have the light of the world within us and this musical can remind us to keep it shining.