Talk about miraculous.
What started as a school project undertaken by students at Carnegie Mellon University eventually became an off-Broadway hit more than 40 years ago.
The project was a musical named "Godspell," and from April 10-19, it will return to a campus setting when it is staged by the Masquers of Armstrong Atlantic State University.
Directed by Pamela Sears, associate professor of theater, "Godspell" will be presented at the Jenkins Hall Theater. The musical is based upon the gospel according to St. Matthew.
"There's a quality of reinvigoration that comes with experiencing this show," Sears says. "All through the rehearsal process, the pre-production planning and through to closing night, it's been a process of building community, which is exactly what the show is about.
"To develop the show, the production team and the company have bonded as a community and we've learned a lot about ourselves in the process," she says. "The community that comes to the show will share that experience because it will project from the actors."
There are 14 cast members in all.
"It's written for 12," Sears says. "That includes the actor playing Jesus and the actor playing John the Baptist and Judas, who in this production are combined."
The cast and crew have their work cut out for them.
"It has been challenging, for sure," Sears says. "It's episodic, as the story is told through the parables of St. Matthew, which are taken straight from the Book of Matthew.
"The real story for the characters is subtext," she says. "It's about how individuals learned from Jesus' teachings and made individual choices to follow him."
"Godspell" is a favorite with people of all religious beliefs.
"A lot of people know 'Godspell,'" Sears says. "It's a classic.
"The first act is very high-energy and fun, with lots of good music and dancing and playfulness that all ages can appreciate and enjoy. The second act is more poignant."
Not all Masquers productions are family friendly, but "Godspell" is.
"It's an uplifting piece of entertainment that is more than appropriate for all ages," Sears says. "It's something that an entire family will enjoy together and have an experience that is hopefully the kick-off of conversations after they leave the theater.
"It's not exclusive to any particular religious beliefs. I don't think anyone will walk in and feel offended.
"The actors engage the audience but not in a scary way," she says. "The entire theater space, including the aisles in the auditorium, will be used and the audience is more than welcome to sing along."
With music by Stephen Schwartz and a book written by John-Michael Tebelak for his master's thesis project, "Godspell" opened off Broadway on May 17, 1971. The song "Day by Day" became a hit on the pop charts in 1972, and several cast albums have been released over the years.
The parables used to tell the stories are interspersed with music. While the music is modern, the lyrics are primarily from traditional hymns.
After "Godspell" was initially presented at Carnegie Mellon in 1970, it was moved to La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Greenwich Village and directed by Tebelak. It was then re-scored by Schwartz for the off-Broadway production.
"It's an uplifting experience," Sears says. "I think that the show, from an audience perspective, has the ability to move you in a surprising way."
There's another "miracle" about this show: It's now much easier to get to the theater from downtown.
"Thank goodness the Truman Parkway is finished," Sears says. "It's so much easier to reach the Armstrong campus.
"Even people from the islands can get here much faster now," she says. "I appreciate that every day."