Call it a labor of love.
"This has been just a joy to direct," said Paula Lindekugel-Willis of the latest production of the Mouse River Players, "Godspell," taking the stage at The Arlene this weekend. "An absolutely awesome cast, strong support musically and with the set design, it's just been wonderful."
"Godspell" was written in 1971 as the senior project of a student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh named John-Michael Tebelak - who was incidentally a classmate of longtime MRP artistic director Sandy Karnack.
Matt Murphy plays Jesus in the Mouse River Players’ “Godspell.”
Arlene Saugstad smiles as the new sign marking the theater that bears her name is prepared to be placed this past week.
"It's surely a classic in the American musical theater," said Lindekugel-Willis, "with all styles of music - hoedown, ballads, duets and old-fashioned revival-type gospel music. It's eclectic."
The actual location and time of the show are not set in the script, allowing directors leeway in adapting it to local circumstances, which Lindekugel-Willis has certainly taken advantage of.
"The sketch on the four flats (the backdrop) will be instantly recognizable to Minot audiences," she said. "In fact, everything on stage is a lot of what we probably saw too much of this past year."
JonCarlo Franchi designed the set and credits Lindekugel-Willis with the concept of using periactoids - triangular towers which can be easily rotated to change the background - to show time passing.
"The same transparency was used for each side," Lindekugel-Willis said.
It opens with the river in simple outline, then turns to suggest the browns of the flood, then turns to a healthier green and blue again, this time with splashes of color. Lindekugel-Willis has chosen "Beautiful City," a later addition to "Godspell," as the finale.
Franchi, a notable singer and dancer, said that he was telling everyone to come to hear the powerful voices among the cast.
"I couldn't even compete," he said. "And it's a good chance for them to get ready for the (Minot State University) summer theater."
As Lindekugel-Willis tells the story, "Godspell" starts with a community of people that come together, but are not unified. Then one man brings them together, and by the end of Act I they have been unified. In Act II, it switches so that the community realizes they've been given a task, because that man will no longer be with them.
"It has the flavor of a lot of different places and times," she said. Of course the "man" is Jesus, played by Matt Murphy, and Alex Schoenberg-Carton portrays John the Baptist and Judas. The rest of the cast (whose character names are those of the original actors from Carnegie Mellon) are Jason Gaarder, Brett Olson, Chris Stroschien, Jazmine Wolff, Katie Langemo, Breanna Benson, Kena Davidson and Brandi Richards.
Davidson also worked as choreographer. Virginia Dohms was musical director and plays the keyboards, with Linda Slorby on the drums. The puppets were made by Ashley Nilsen and Cody Blotter, and Peg Morris is stage manager.
This is Lindekugel-Willis' final production with the Mouse River Players before she and her husband leave Minot, and she is proud to be ending on this note.
"Godspell" is part of the season ticket, or costs $12. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Reservations may be made by calling 866-667-1977.