When Stephen Schwartz wrote the folk-rock Broadway musical "Godspell" in 1970, he retold the Book of Matthew's version of Jesus' life without a Resurrection.
But Schwartz, now more famous for his Ozian blockbuster "Wicked," always felt his first show was a bit incomplete and left director's notes challenging future productions to come up with a solution.
Now on the verge of the show's 40th anniversary of the 1971 New York opening, former Wichitan Sherri McCready and her North Carolina-based Highland Acting Company have taken up Schwartz's challenge to create a third act called "Resurrectio" (Latin for Resurrection).
And the newly expanded show will be presented at Wichita's Orpheum Theatre today and Saturday to show McCready's hometown what she's been up to since she moved away — first in 2001 to New York and then in 2005 to Asheville where her husband, Shannon McCready, is pastor of Highland Christian Church.
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"We have updated the music a little from the 1970s with some rap and techno to appeal to today's youth, who aren't the usual audience for music theater," McCready said. "Our John the Baptist, for example, has become sort of a rap artist.
"And we use a lot of humor, particularly with our Jesus through one-liners and the way the actor (Jason Garris, another former Wichitan) elects to say a line. But people who love the show — boomers, particularly — will still recognize it. The music is still the music and the show is the show."
But now there is about 30 minutes more of it through "Resurrectio," written by McCready and three others: music director Nate Huff, actor Jazz Cathcart (who plays John the Baptist) and actor Myles Hutchinson (the Peter figure), yet another former Wichitan.
"The show is so amazing that we didn't want to end with Jesus's death," McCready said. "We took up the challenge to finish it by adapting existing songs like 'Marvelous Light' and 'Sweet Jesus' from modern hymnals for a 'Worship Medley.'
"It all fits together because 'Godspell' lends itself to a lot of adaptation and interpretation."
The show began as a master's thesis at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University for fledgling playwright John-Michael Tebelak, who envisioned Jesus as a sort of hippie clown in a Superman T-shirt leading a band of flower children through a series of parables to impart his messages of love and hope.
It attracted attention, and a bit of controversy, from New York producers, who called in composer Schwartz (also a Carnegie Mellon alum) to write new songs. Among them are such favorites as "Day By Day," "Light of the World," "All Good Gifts," the razz-ma-tazzy "All for the Best," "Turn Back, O Man" and the hauntingly lovely ballad "By My Side."
The show opened off-Broadway in 1971 for a record run (more than 2,100 performances), became a movie in 1973 starring Victor Garber and moved to Broadway in 1976.
McCready, who was known as Sherri Howard while growing up in Wichita, was a Southeast High grad and ballet major at Friends University. In Asheville, she is a drama and dance teacher for Elevate School at Highland Community Center.
McCready founded the Highland Acting Company as part of the school, and "Godspell" is its first project.
"We want to present shows that will leave an audience with something substantial and worthwhile, not just be forgotten as they walk out the door."