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Dallas Students Begin Rehearsing 'Godspell'

The musical, centered around the life of Jesus, has proven controversial

DALLAS -- The life of Jesus, including his betrayal and death, might sound like heavy subject matter for a high school musical.

But "Godspell," Dallas High school's winter play, tells a story based on Jesus' life in a light-hearted, non-traditional manner.

Andrew Engstrom, who plays John the Baptist and Judas, said the play is uplifting.

"This is a happy play," he said.

"There's a lot of involvement with the crowd. It's upbeat and joyful."

Director Aaron Fawcett, a language arts teacher at Dallas High, said the play is a product of the time period it was written in -- the 1960s and 70s.

"There were so many movements going on then, including a significant religious movement," Fawcett said.

"This play has to do with movements happening."

The story focuses loosely on events from the Gospel of Matthew, with more than a dozen musical numbers interspersed throughout.

Fawcett said the style of acting Godspell calls for is different from most plays. The actors play characters based on themselves and don't have many written lines.

"It's an ensemble-based show," he explained.

"They're accustomed to plays where they are given lines, so I think this is a little difficult for them. There's not tons of speaking, but they're always busy. It's new for them."

Junior Dannielle Greco, who plays the Apostle Dannielle, said she likes the informality of the play.

"We're able to keep it upbeat and make jokes," she said.

"We're creating stuff as we go along."

Learning song-and-dance numbers as well as acting can be difficult as well.

"I'm not in choir, so this is the first musical thing I've done," Greco said.

"I think learning to dance and sing will prove to be a challenge."

Fawcett said many of the actors are performing in a musical for the first time. While talent and experience were important in casting the play, it wasn't the only thing he looked for.

"I was looking for an ensemble-ish type," he said.

"They have to be willing to check their ego at the door. It has to be about the show rather than about the individual."

He is confident that the actors he has chosen are up to the challenge.

"There is no doubt it will be a good show," he said.

"We're committed to excellence."

"Godspell," has caused some students to question whether or not plays with religious content are appropriate at a public high school.

In a letter to the Itemizer-Observer Dec. 18, student Ben Jones wrote, "In my opinion, this genre of musical theater in public schools borders on the line of separation of church and state. Some of the religious topics may offend some individuals."

Some letters in following weeks supported Jones's stance, while others disagreed.

Director Aaron Fawcett, a language arts teacher at Dallas High School, said he did not consider the play's content when he selected it. Instead, he chose it because he had directed it before.

"It's just the play I'm most familiar with," he said. "I felt comfortable with it."

Fawcett's wife, Blair Cromwell, Dallas High's theater teacher, normally directs Dallas High plays.

However, Cromwell only recently returned from maternity leave, so Fawcett got the job of directing the winter play.

"We decided on this play when we knew she was going to be gone on maternity leave," Fawcett said.

"I've been in it a couple times, and I've directed and choreographed it before."

Dallas High Principal Scott McLeod said the school does not mean to promote religion with "Godspell."

"We did not by any stretch of the imagination intend to polarize the community by selecting 'Godspell,'" he said.

Despite the letters to the newspaper, Fawcett said no one has contacted him to complain about the play. McLeod has had a discussion with one student who wrote a letter about the issue.

Dallas High staged "Godspell" 10 years ago, and Fawcett recalled some objections to the play then too.

"I think last time people were more concerned about it being irreverent, while this time it's more about it being almost too Christian," he said.

"Religion is a subject that is always touchy."

Fawcett and McLeod both pointed out that "Godspell" has been performed in high schools across the country.

Fawcett said the controversy hasn't affected the play.

"We're here to do a show," Fawcett said.

"That's what I'm committed to."

Performances are set for Feb. 21 to 23 and March 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m. and March 3 at 2 p.m. All performances will take place in Dallas High School's Bowman auditorium. Tickets cost $5 for students and seniors and $6 for adults.

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