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Players Circle’s production of ‘Godspell’ unlike anything audiences have experienced before


Godspell has captivated audiences worldwide with countless performances since its debut in 1971. However, the Players Circle production promises to deliver an experience unlike anything audiences have seen before.

It all starts with the gifted, high-octane cast that Associate Artistic Director Ted Wioncek has assembled for the show.

“No two productions of Godspell should be identical,” Wioncek asserts. “If they are, I feel as though they perhaps missed the boat because [the musical] really lives and breathes through the abilities and talents of its cast.”

Members of this cast are something of a dream team. They’re vocally talented and each plays their own instrument, from piano and guitar to flute and saxophone.

But the uniqueness of this production resides in the fact that the audience itself is part of the cast.

“I’ve never seen a production quite like this, where you, the audience, are the 11th cast member,” says choreographer and cast member Kimberly Suskind. “And we really invite you into the story and invite you into our family and invite you into our community.”

To involve the audience in every aspect of the show, Players Circle has staged Godspell in the round. This augments the play’s magic and majesty.

“Our production is highly, highly immersive,” Wioncek points out. “By that I mean there is not a square inch of this theater that isn’t infiltrated by this very talented cast, and there’s no knowing where the stage ends and the audience begins. The actors are in and out throughout the aisles, up and down the rafters. It is just one giant celebration. In a lot of ways, we say, it’s like all the good parts of Woodstock, without the mud.”

The cast of Godspell also employs intermission to amplify this deeply immersive quality.

“Our intermission is incredibly unique, because at intermission, our party keeps going,” teases Suskind.

“We don’t just lights go down and we leave and we come back for Act Two. We stay out with the audience. We have a jam session with them. We talk with them …. So really want every audience member who comes to see this production to feel like they are part of our community when they leave.”

Of course, you can’t say Godspell without talking about Stephen Schwartz’s uplifting score. And the show’s best known number is “Day By Day,” beautifully sung by Rachael Lord. It’s an iconic 800-year-old song that Schwartz borrowed from the Episcopal hymnal, along with several others. But “Day By Day” was so popular it spent 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #13 in 1972.

AJ Mendini, who plays Jesus, thinks part of the show’s enduring appeal is attributable to the music’s familiarity.

“But in this version, the 2012 revival version that we’re presenting, the music is updated,” observes Mendini. “It has a more rough feel. It’s driven by a contemporary sound. It’s relatable, again, to everyone, besides the fact that a lot of what we’re doing, our cast members are accompanying the music with their own instruments.”

This is on full display in the folk number “Learn Your Lessons Well,” led by a spirited Darby Pumphrey.

  • Learn Your Lessons Well
  • I can see a swath of sinners settin’ yonder
  • And they’re actin’ like a pack of fools
  • Gazin’ into space they let their minds all wander
  • ‘Stead of studyin’ the good Lord’s rules
  • You better pay attention, build your comprehension
  • There’s gonna be a quiz at your ascencion
  • Not to mention any threat of hell
  • But if you’re smart you’ll learn your lessons well!
  • Every bright description of the promised land meant
  • You can reach it if you keep alert
  • Learnin’ every line and every last commandment
  • May not help you but it couldn’t hurt
  • First ya gotta read ’em then ya gotta heed ’em
  • Ya never know when you’re gonna need ’em
  • Just as old Elijah said to Jezebel
  • You better start to learn your lessons well!


In the final analysis, what makes Players Circle’s production of this 53-year-old musical unique, and so very satisfying, is the gift of community it bestows upon the audience.

“We live in an age of constant contact,” Wioncek explains. “We’ve been blessed with endless ways to communicate, and yet we’re more disconnected than ever before. We yearn for a sense of belonging, a community, and that’s the true power of Godspell. In just under 2 hours, we’re cast under its spell, in its message of love, and we carry it with us long after we leave the theater. It’s more than a show, more than a production. It’s an experience. And one that we can’t afford to miss.”

Godspell plays at Players Circle Theatre April 16th through May 12th.



  • Chock full of hit rock songs, topical humor, and irresistible goodwill, Godspell spreads the power of love by modernizing a series of parables from the Gospel of Saint Matthew by using a wide variety of pop culture references, games, and fun audience interaction.
  • Godspell made its New York debut in 1971, with a book John-Michael Tebelak. Tebelak relates that he got the impetus to create the show after attending a rather uninspiring Easter service during which the pastor seemed to be in a hurry and the congregation seemed bored. Regarding a religious service as a form of theater, Tebelak wanted to make the religious experience accessible once again to the masses.
  • Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Wicked) added the music after the show had already been running for a while. He completed the score in just five weeks, taking the lyrics for his soft rock songs from hymns, psalms, and other religious sources.
  • The musical was an instant hit, running over 2,600 performances in NYC before it was adapted into a successful Hollywood Film in 1973. The film soundtrack garnered a Grammy Award and the musical’s anthem, “Day by Day” spent 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #13 in July of 1972.
  • Schwartz incorporated two types of songs into the musical. The first are “book songs,” or those that flow from the action with the characters singing something in the context of the action taking place on stage. In book songs, the characters aren’t singing to the audience; they’re “talking” to each other. For example, in “Save the People,” Jesus is talking to God. In “Day by Day” and “By My Side,” the cast is telling Jesus what he means to them.
  • The second type of song in Godspell is “diegetic,” in which singing is part of the story, as in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical or “Parlor Songs” in Sweeney Todd. In Godspell, the diegetic songs are mostly the songs in which the lessons are summarized or the cast is just having fun, including “Learn Your Lessons Well” and “We Beseech Thee.”
  • Composer Stephen Schwartz borrowed several songs from the Episcopal hymnal. Joining “Day By Day” on this list are “Save the
  • People”, “Bless the Lord”, “All Good Gifts” and “We Beseech Thee.” That’s why Schwartz’s credits for these songs reads “Music and New Lyrics.”
  • Godspell launched the careers of Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Victor Garber, Eugene Levy, and more.
  • In addition to breaking the fourth wall, Players Circle’s version features an all-star cast of ten performers, each of whom play their own musical instruments throughout, highlighting an eclectic blend of musical stylings from pop to vaudeville.
  • Godspell features a cast of professionals hailing from near and far, including Matthew Camardo (New Jersey), Shane Dinan (North Carolina), Ruthgena Faraco (Cape Coral), Whitney Grace (Punta Gorda) Rachael Lord (Fort Myers), AJ Mendini (Fort Myers), Caleb Pless (Tennessee), Darby Pumphrey (Philadelphia), Amanda Ross (New York), and Kimberly Suskind (Fort Myers).
  • In addition to singing and acting, each cast member plays a musical instrument.
  • “In the original, Jesus bestows the cast with clown makeup to symbolize their free spirit and inner child,” observes Director Ted Wioncek. “In our version, we use musical instruments, allowing music to play an even greater role in our creative storytelling. One by one, the cast learns how to use their gifts to spread the word as they join together to make a joyful noise.”
  • This represents the third time that Associate Artistic Director Ted Wioncek III has directed Godspell.
  • Joining Wioncek on the Godspell creative team are Choreographer Kimberly Suskind (Ho! Ho! Ho! The Christmas Show, The Cocktail Hour). Music Director Ricky Pope (Ho! Ho! Ho! The Christmas Show, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), Set Designer Steven McLean (Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks, Proof, Butterflies Are Free, Ho! Ho! Ho! The Christmas Show, Breaking Legs, The Foreigner), Lighting Designer Will Gibbons Brown, Sound Designer (Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks, Proof, Butterflies Are Free, Ho! Ho! Ho! The Christmas Show, Breaking Legs), and Costume Designer Sallyanne Bianchetta (Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks, Proof, Butterflies Are Free, Ho! Ho! Ho! The Christmas Show). Stage Management by Parker Slaybaugh (Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks, Proof).
  • Godspell marks the sixth production at Players Circle’s new home, located in the Heart of the McGregor Corridor (13211 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers, FL 33919).
  • Now celebrating its 4th season, Players Circle Theater is Southwest Florida’s most elegant and intimate professional theater, presenting up to nine eclectic theatrical productions each season, including contemporary and classic works and ground-breaking musical theater experiences. Players Circle was developed by veterans of the Southwest Florida theater movement, Carrie Lund Cacioppo and Robert Cacioppo, founders of Lee County’s first professional theater in the mid 1980’s at Sanibel’s Pirate Playhouse, as well as Florida Rep 1998–2018, which has been named “One of America’s best regional theatres” by The Wall Street Journal during their tenure. Players Circle is a professional theater providing year-round, invigorating Broadway-level entertainment.

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