PITTSFIELD — Seven weeks and 46 performances later, the Colonial Theatre has pulled off a "miracle" staging the only musical production across the country during the coronavirus outbreak.
The outdoor, pandemic version of "Godspell" closed on Sunday before another very appreciative, enthusiastic gathering of 50 patrons.
"It's a miracle," said Ellen Beck, a Los Angeles transplant living in Otis.
Why is it a miracle?
"To have live entertainment when everything else is closed, to get a full cast (10 members); it's the closest thing to Broadway as you can get," Beck said.
"Yes. It's kind of a miracle, but it came down to a lot of hard work," said Alan Filderman, the show's director, in an Eagle interview prior to the finale.
He added: "We've accomplished the impossible."
The impossible was originally scheduled to open July 31 as a very doable production on the Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge. COVID-19 and the safety protocols to prevent its spread moved opening night to Aug. 29 under a large tent pitched in the parking lot adjacent to the Colonial. Scheduled to run only through Sept. 4, it was quickly apparent that Colonial's parent, Berkshire Theatre Group, had a hit on its hands as the shows quickly sold out.
The sellouts were due, in part, to the state's COVID-19 protocol that limited gatherings to 50 people, and the limit on the size of gatherings was one reason the show's run was extended another two weeks.
Another reason, says BTG Executive Director Nicholas Paleologos, was that the performance immediately engaged the audience.
"We have more people thanking us for doing 'Godspell.' Many haven't been out of the house, socially, since March," he said, referring to when the pandemic began to hit the hardest.
"Godspell" was the only scheduled BTG stage production to survive the pandemic that shuttered theatrical venues from coast-to-coast and around the world.
However, the persistence of BTG Artistic Director Kate Maguire and her staff paid off when, on July 6, they got the actors union, Actors' Equity Association, to allow the Colonial to be the first professional theater in the U.S. produce a musical.
But while "Godspell" earned its distinction for being the only musical production to be staged across the country, it is not alone in setting a pathway for the return of the arts. Barrington Stage Company in downtown Pittsfield received Actors' Equity's blessing for an indoor production of "Harry Clarke," a one-person show, only for it to have to switch gears and also go outside as the state wasn't ready to allow live, indoor entertainment last month.
With permission in hand for "Godspell," Filderman quickly assembled his cast in New York City and brought them to Pittsfield to be quarantined for two weeks before rehearsals could begin. Filderman and choreographer Gerry McIntyre originally roomed with the cast. Filderman found tension was initially high, mainly over how mask wearing and social distancing would play out on stage.
"However, there was almost no tension between the cast because we got along so well," Filderman said. "We learned a lesson on how to get along and leave petty differences behind us."
The "Godspell" stage was like no other in modern American theater. Movable sheets of plexiglass separated cast members who lowered their masks when singing or delivering dialogue.
"It was amazing with the barriers, how [the cast] can move them from scene to scene," said David Bondini from Dalton.
The mask-wearing audience watched while seated in one-, two- or three-chair groupings, arranged at least six feet apart.
The musical was also adapted for the times, with the cast often making references to the effect the coronavirus has had on American society.
Originally written and scored in 1971, "Godspell" is inspired by the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible, with Jesus, Judas, and eight non-biblical apostles speaking and singing in parables about God's love.
In one scene, an apostle relayed a message from God to Jesus saying, "It's your father asking if you could help him set up a Zoom call."
"Godspell" 2020 opens with a theater rarity, the cast speaking directly to the audience — in this case, how COVID-19 has disrupted their careers and lives.
Nicholas Edwards (Jesus) "felt lost and ready to give up" after mid-March.
Dan Rosales felt "alone, abandoned, unessential."
Zach Williams was getting ready to perform in a national tour of "Aladdin" when "the magic carpet was swept out from underneath me. I felt lost, anxious and confused."
After the show, BTG staff praised the cast and crew as some audience members looked on.
Maguire read two proclamations, one from the Massachusetts Senate, courtesy of Berkshire Sen. Adam Hinds, and one from the city of Pittsfield, authored by Mayor Linda Tyer.
"Thank you for bringing live theater to the Pittsfield community during a time in which we needed it the most," Tyer wrote.
Based on the national and international media coverage, the local "Godspell" production was a godsend.
"This is an incredible moment for theater a real gift to the country. With the media blitz, everyone around the world knows our theater," said Lee Perlman, Co-President of the BTG board of trustees.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been modified to correct the length of the show's run.