The doors of the former First Congregational Church have swung open for numerous events and services since 1868. Now, less than a year after becoming The Spire of Jamestown, the building will host its first full-scale musical production.
Big Time Productions will present "Godspell" at the theater, beginning Friday, April 20.
Based on the Gospel of St. Matthew, the musical opened off-Broadway in the early 1970s. The show is a series of parables, interspersed with a variety of musical numbers. "Godspell" concludes with a scene recreating the Last Supper and crucifixion of Jesus. A "Godspell" revival is presently playing on Broadway.
Godspell Rehearsal At The Spire Theater
Angelo and Ylsa Giuffre, The Spire's owners, thought the First Congregational Church could become a worthy performance venue when they sang there at a wedding several years ago.
"After we sang, I looked at Ylsa and said, 'Someone should buy this church and turn it into a theater some day,'" Giuffre said.
That's exactly what they did last year.
The cast of ‘‘Godspell’’ is hard at work preparing for opening night at The Spire of Jamestown, which will be Friday, April 20.
P-J photo by Scott Shelters
Now a full-blown multipurpose center, The Spire houses Big Time Productions, Odyssey Event Coordinating and several other organizations. The venue recently hosted the third annual Chautauqua's Got Talent competition and screens films as part of The Forgotten Classics movie series twice each week.
Those who have visited the former church in the past will notice the theater's new 28-by-16-foot modular stage built by Rod Turner and John Beard.
"We built the entire thing without putting one scratch in the original woodwork," Giuffre said. "It's completely free-standing. We may not tear it down right after the show, but if we need to take it down for weddings or traditional services, we'll be able to."
The stage will provide added performance space for the show's cast, which includes Logan Beard, Vince Liuzzo, Cathy Covarrubias, Tim Dohl, Shannon Nixon, Rachel Phillippi, Jillianne Higgs, Ylsa Giuffre, Jamie Lee Bonfiglio-Davis, Michael Frank, Laura Classon and David Zuech.
Most of the cast will portray disciples, while Beard will play Jesus, and Liuzzo, The Spire's assistant director, will play John the Baptist and Judas.
Liuzzo had previously played Jesus in the 2007 St. James Catholic Church Passion play. The Giuffres encouraged him to audition.
"I had never done a production like this before," said Liuzzo, who has additional on-stage experience as a singer-songwriter. "I figured since I'm working here and I trust Angelo and Ylsa, I'd give it a shot. It's a completely new experience. I've enjoyed learning all the nuances of a production like this. I've got to work with some great people. Anne Eklund is a great vocal coach. It's been fun. It's definitely helped me grow as a performer."
When Angelo Giuffre partook in a production of "Godspell" in 1996, he fell in love with it. As a sixth-grader, he ran spotlights for a St. James production of the show, which hasn't been performed in Jamestown since.
"I've been wanting to do this since 1996," said Giuffre, who co-directs the show with Anne Eklund. "I've just been biding my time for the right moment. This is the 40th anniversary of the original production, so I thought it was a pretty fitting time."
With a new venue at their disposal, Giuffre and Eklund began rehearsals eight weeks ago, giving them a two-and-a-half-month cushion before the show's opening night. With a little more than a week left before opening night, Eklund likes the looks of the production.
"It's going wonderfully," she said. "It's a lot of fun. There's a lot of talent on stage."
The cast doesn't include professional actors. The performers work full-time elsewhere and come to rehearse several nights a week at The Spire.
"Everybody comes tired from another job, and they have to rejuvenate," Eklund said. "'Godspell,' it's not a sit-down thing. It's full of energy."
Choreographer Rudi Andalora, a handful of pit band musicians and the rest of the production team add to that energy. Those involved in the production have done what they can to add creativity to the show while maintaining the music and vaudevillian elements. Higgs, who has performed with Big Time Productions for several years, and Ylsa Giuffre have directed choreography for a couple of the songs.
"We're making the costumes our own," Angelo Giuffre said. "We're making the choreography our own. We're taking ideas from a classic pop platform."
The production team has drawn inspiration from The Commodores, The Supremes, Jackson 5, Tina Turner, and other artists from the 1960s and 1970s.
Pre-sale tickets for the show are $12 and can be purchased at The Spire or Catholic Academy of the Holy Family, which the production will benefit. Tickets at the door will be $15.
The academy hired Big Time Productions to put on the event. The Giuffres then determined a budget and helped the school raise funds, allowing 100 percent of ticket sales to benefit Holy Family. This is the third year in a row Big Time Productions has had a fundraiser for the school and the fourth time overall.
Following the opening night, performances will be held Saturday, April 21; Friday, April 27; and Saturday, April 28. When the former church's doors swing open for the first of four 8 p.m. shows, those in attendance will take part in history.
"It's so exciting," Giuffre said. "It's a great maiden voyage for the theater."