None are older than age 15, yet they float along the melody of this 40-year-old song as if it’s their daily anthem.
And it has been for the last three weeks.
“Day by Day,” they sing, stepping from side to side.
Hard to believe that this song has spanned four decades, isn’t it? But it has. “Day by Day” is probably the best-known song from the musical Godspell, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
Really, it’s a good summer anthem for a group of junior high and high school students. It can be inspirational for a group of professional and college actors, too.
Both have been gathering in the Studio Theatre in the LSU Music and Dramatic Arts Building for the last three weeks to rehearse the musical, which opens on Thursday, Aug. 4.
Actually, the younger set of actors has been doing a little more.
“We’ve been calling it Godspell boot camp,” Todd Henry said. “And that’s what it’s been for them. We’ve been working them hard from morning to late in the afternoon.”
Henry is educational director for Playmakers of Baton Rouge, which has partnered with Swine Palace to host a summer theater camp. Students in the production represent Playmakers; professional and college actors are working through Swine Palace. All come together to tell the story of Godspell.
“This has really been a great experience for the kids,” Henry said. “They are learning all aspects of how to put together a production.”
“And they’re able to perform on stage beside professional actors,” Jenny Ballard said. “Some of them have been to Swine Palace productions, and they’ve seen our actors in performances. Now they’re on stage with these actors.”
Ballard is director of this show. She’s also a student in the LSU Department of Theatre’s master of fine arts program, as is Godspell’s musical director Jason Bayles.
“We’re working with the kids on a professional level,” Bayles said. “This is a challenge, and they’ve all risen to the challenge.”
The partnership between the two companies marks a new beginning for Playmakers, which is moving its operation from the Manship Theatre to Swine Palace’s headquarters in the Reilly Theatre in the fall.
“We love the Manship Theatre, and we’ll be performing our first production of the season in the Manship, but our move to the Reilly Theatre offers us so many opportunities,” Henry said.
One of these opportunities is not only working with resources from Swine Palace but those in the LSU Performing Arts Academy.
“The Performing Arts Academy is also helping us with this theater camp,” Henry said. “There are so many things we’re able to do here. We haven’t been able to teach the kids how to build a set before, but we’ve been able to do it here. There are so many educational opportunities here.”
It all began with George Judy’s idea of staging Godspell.
Judy is Swine Palace’s interim artistic director. He also heads the theater department’s master of fine arts program. Judy called Playmakers, offering the company use of the Studio Theatre for the production, as well as students in the master of fine arts program for the cast.
Fourteen students between ages 11 and 15 signed up for the workshop with half being members of Playmakers’ Young Professionals Program.
“There were no auditions,” Henry said. “And we’re very pleased with what we’re seeing from the students who aren’t members of our Young Professionals Program. We definitely want them to audition for the program in the fall.”
The Playmakers cast members will make up the musical’s ensemble, while Swine Palace’s actors fill the musical’s principal roles.
Godspell was written by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak. It opened in the off Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre on May 17, 1971, and became one of the longest-running off-Broadway musicals before making its Broadway debut in June 1976.
The musical is based on a series of parables from the Gospel of Matthew set to modern music with lyrics primarily from traditional hymns.
Again, “Day by Day” is the musical’s best-known song after having reached No. 13 on the Billboard pop singles chart in the summer of 1972.
This may surprise some audience members. The song that seems so timeless, the song without beginning or end in its soothing repetition, actually is 40 years old in 2011.
But isn’t it the mark of a good song to stand the test of time? “Day by Day” does just that.
Just make a trip to the Studio Theatre for one of four performances and watch the Playmakers ensemble sing this song.
Choreographer Katrina Despain tells them to smile, but she doesn’t have to remind them. The smiles are already there when the music begins. They’re clearly having fun. They love this song.
“I watched the movie,” camper Anna Deshotels said. “And I’d heard ?Day by Day.’ I like it.”
Deshotels is joined by her fellow campers, all talking at once. They like what they’ve learned in this theater camp, from acting to costuming to lighting to set design.
“And though we didn’t require auditions to be in the camp, we did put them through the audition process for this show,” Henry said. “We wanted them to experience singing and dancing auditions. We wanted them to experience what it was like to stage a production from beginning to end.”
Kristin Eliason will provide piano accompaniment for the show. Bayles also will provide guitar accompaniment on several songs.
As for Ballard, she’s enjoying the experience of working with children again. Ballard operated a children’s theater company in Knoxville, Tenn., before enrolling in the master of fine arts program.
“It’s so great to be working with kids again,” she said. “They’re so innovative and enthusiastic about being here, and they offer such great energy and ideas.”
Children also aren’t as inhibited as adults when it comes to learning new things, even when that new thing is something old, like, say, a 40-year-old song.
CAST: Anthony McMurray, Jesus; Jason Duga, Judas; Morgan Bartholick, Jeffrey; Steven Bailey, Lamar; Todd Henry and Kenny Mayfield, Herb; Jessica Jain, Gilmer; Sarah Patin, Peggy; Sarah Ford, Sonia; Mercedes Wilson, Robin; Katie Haeuser, Joanne; Matt Miyagi, Jordan Phillips, Kirkley Norton, Hannah Keller, Amanda Mangham, Paige Modicut, Anna Deshotels, Shelby Tassin, Vivian Brown. Chris Fields, Jolie Gautreaux, Sophia Dooley, Daniel Mirabito and Brandon Persica, ensemble.
ARTISTIC STAFF: Jenny Ballard, director; Jason Bayle, musical director; Katrina Despain, choreographer/costume design; Jessica Jain, staff; Kenneth Mayfield, technical design; Evan Grant, lighting design; Kristin Eliason, pianist; George Judy, producing director; Nichole Ingalsbe, stage manager