Objections led church to call off 'Godspell'

The producers say they don't know why some First Baptist members were offended.

Published April 9, 2007

LARGO - A "handful" of church members apparently offended by the play Godspell forced the cancellation of three performances at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks last week.

The play was to be staged in the church fellowship hall Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings. More than 600 tickets were reportedly presold in the church bookstore and on the church's Web site.

Ticket holders will be refunded, according to Rick D'Onofrio, artistic director for the production company, Stages Productions of Indian Rocks Beach. The company was hired by the church to put on the play.

D'Onofrio said he and his wife, Terri, were called to the church Tuesday and told the performances were canceled.

The reason?

"We were told a handful of people complained that the play was offensive," D'Onofrio said. "This took us by surprise, and we are all in shock."

The cast of professional actors and church members had been rehearsing the play for the past two months. They found out it had been canceled Tuesday night when they showed up for dress rehearsal.

"Pastor Charlie (Martin) came himself and told the cast. Everyone at the church was apologizing to us. They felt really bad about it."

D'Onofrio said he has no idea why some church members were offended by the play or why their complaints resulted in its cancellation.

"I just don't understand this. I hope we will find out soon," D'Onofrio said.

Godspell, first staged off Broadway in 1971, is a modern day song-and-dance recreation of the Gospel of St. Matthew's story of the life of Jesus. Actors dressed as clowns enact the parables through song, dance, comedy and mime.

Godspell began as a master's thesis project under the direction of Lawrence Carra at Carnegie Mellon University. Most of the lyrics were taken from the Episcopal Hymnal and set to contemporary music.

In its advertising, the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks said "Godspell brings the parables of Jesus Christ to life with their strong message of kindness, tolerance and unconditional love."

The play was produced at the church several years ago by the church-affiliated high school.

D'Onofrio said his production company was asked by the church about six months ago to put on a play as part of the church's Easter activities.

The production company has had a long association with the church and is still planning a summer musical drama workshop for high school students, who will learn how to perform in Disney's High School Musical.

For nearly 20 years, Stages Productions has specialized in family-oriented plays and musicals, particularly fairy tales in Broadway-style productions. The company tours throughout Florida.

Multiple attempts were made both Thursday and Friday to contact church officials for comment.