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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Apr. 21, 2021 1 year ago

‘Godspell’ opens at Garden Theatre

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Creative Director Joseph Walsh and cast members have put their own spin on the 1971 classic musical.
by: Danielle Hendrix Former Associate Editor

What originally began decades ago as a project by drama students at Carnegie Mellon University has since blossomed into a lively Broadway musical — and it’s coming to Winter Garden.

“Godspell” runs April 22 through May 23 at the Garden Theatre, and the cast has taken the original script from 1971 and put its own spin on it. 

Dr. Phillips High alumnus Eddie Ortega plays the role of Jesus, and he assures attendees “no one will ever see a ‘Godspell’ like this.”

“There’s so many different versions of this show,” Ortega said. “A lot of people know the 2011 revival version, which is basically the work that we’re doing. They did their own spin on the original just like we did. … With (Artistic Director Joe Walsh) wanting to get the original version, it feels like we get to do that same work, and it’s a totally different ‘Godspell’ that no one will ever see because it’s our own. That experience I haven’t had a lot in my career, so I’m happy to be a part of that.”

Ortega’s acting career has roots in participating in uplifting performances at his church growing up. However, his love for theater didn’t take off until his senior year at Dr. Phillips High, when the theater program was set to perform “In The Heights.” Although he never had done a musical previously, he auditioned and earned the lead role. 

Eddie Ortega (Courtesy)

“I fell in love with musicals; I fell in love with acting and singing and dancing,” Ortega said. “After that, I decided I wanted to pursue it in college, so I auditioned for Florida State University — which is an incredible, top-10 program. I did not get in my first go-around, so then I spent a year at FSU training more and really figuring out the auditions I wanted and what it took. I auditioned again and got in my second attempt.”

Since graduating from FSU, Ortega has worked around the country and even aboard a cruise ship overseas before COVID-19. His first chance to get back on stage came last fall, when he landed a role in the Garden Theatre’s production of “Ugly Lies The Bone.”

“I had such a great experience with ‘Ugly Lies the Bone’ that seeing ‘Godspell,’ seeing the role of Jesus as well, it was a dream of mine to do this kind of show, this creating-something-out-of-nothing show,” he said. “I knew I wanted to play the role of Jesus.”

In “Godspell,” Jesus and his followers gather to share parables from the biblical book of Matthew, and together, they celebrate unity, spirituality and community. The musical features an eclectic rock score, including the international hit “Day by Day.”

“We all bring something different to the table, too. It’s really interesting, the different ideas that we bounce off each other.” — Eddie Ortega

“The way it’s being directed and how the story goes is they’re in chaos, and they can’t find peace among themselves,” Ortega said. “This random guy — that would be me as Jesus — comes in. He’s a stranger to these folks, and they don’t really know what to do with him, but throughout the show, you see the peace they kind of need to be able to exist and move through the world. He’s their teacher. He comes in and teaches them the right way to live. It’s a beautiful story.”

Ortega describes the experience so far as a “party” and said the cast jells well. 

Most of all, Ortega is grateful for the opportunity to once again be part of a production with the Garden Theatre.

“I was happy to do ‘Ugly Lies The Bone,’ of course, and I was grateful then, but to come back during this pandemic and do another show, I just feel beyond blessed,” he said. “My favorite thing is … being able to walk into a space and be a fool for five hours — just being able to do what I love after so many months of not being able to do it. There’s nothing like that feeling.”

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Danielle Hendrix was an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com.

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