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Godspell History - First Production at Carnegie Mellon University.

Godspell was conceived and directed by John Michael Tebelak

The Fledgling Godspell

By Carol de Giere

Originally published for The Schwartz Scene

In the 1960's when John-Michael Tebelak and his future Godspell cast members were studying at Carnegie Mellon University, their drama classes were all held in the Fine Arts Building. (Stephen Schwartz was a directing major there from 1964-1968.)

Then, as now, students relaxed and tossed Frisbees on the grassy lawns between buildings of campus.

Carnegie Mellon Univ Fine Arts

[College of Fine Arts building in the background]

John-Michael Tebelak lived on near-by Atwood street in Pittsburgh at the time he pieced together Bible quotes to be used in the show that was to be his master's thesis.

Pittsburgh - John Michael's street

In rehearsals on campus, the assembled group of students, with guidance from John-Michael as director, improvised scenes to bring Bible quotes to life in a joyous way for modern audiences.

The original version was a hit for the 50+ people who crowded into the Studio Theatre for several nights of performances. Many of the cast members went to play in the Off-Off Broadway version the following February, and then to Cherry Lane where Stephen Schwartz music was added and it became a smash hit musical. (Read the full creative story behind Godspell in the Stephen Schwartz biography Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz: from Godspell to Wicked)

Mary Mazziotti was one cast member who stayed behind at Carnegie to finish her degree. She currently lives in Pittsburgh where she is a painter, and agreed to come back to campus to chat with me on May 4th about the original show.

We took a trip behind the Fine Arts Building to the site of the old Studio Theatre where Godspell was performed. The cinder block structure has been torn down and a rooftop garden takes its place. We stopped for a photo on the grounds.

[Mary Mazziotti and the Godspell site]

Godspell at Carnegie Mellon University studio theatre

Comparing the fledgling college version of the show to the one that became a hit musical, Mary remembers, "It was a completely different animal. When it was here, the reason it was a success was because it was very heartfelt, and very unsophisticated musically and otherwise." For her, it seemed appropriate for the feel of the era.

When she later heard the New York show's cast album an realized how different it was from the college show. "Stephen's music was light years away from the stuff that we were warbling and crooning, and it had to be."

I asked Mary about the man who conceived the show and brought it into being. I knew John-Michael Tebelak was a large young man over six feet tall and wondered if he was frightening.

"Oh no," she insisted. "He was like Hagrid [the half-giant, is Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts in Harry Potter] Not quite that big. He wasn't scary at all. He was a sweetie."

Mary also had positive memories of the productions Stephen Schwartz and others had done for the school club called Scotch 'n' Soda, among them, the original version of Pippin. "I remember the quality of the shows was fantastic. It was really first class."

Then in December 1970, the first Godspell opened in the Little Theatre. About the response, Mary recalls, "It was HUGE. People were over the moon about it. People were screaming and applauding and shrieking, and the place was jammed. For every performance. I have to say I was a real doubting Thomas. I thought what the f— is this. We're just sort of lolling around the stage…. It was not my thing. I really like things in row. But people just went insane."

Seeing this response, John-Michael was encouraged to bring the show to New York, where Stephen Schwartz saw it for the first time on March 7th, 1971. And from there the show went on to make history.

First Godspell Cast at CMU listed in speaking order:

Andrew Rohrer

Mary Mazziotti

Martha Jacobs

Robin Lamont

Robert Miller

Sonia Manzano

Stanley King

Randy Danson

James Stevens

David Haskell

More Godspell History

Read a full account of Godspell in the Stephen Schwartz biography Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz: from Godspell to Wicked

ON THIS SITE

John-Michael Tebelak

Peggy Gordon and "By My Side",

Godspell song stories


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