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BWW Interviews: Breaking Bread with GODSPELL'S Hunter Parrish


A careful look through the New Testament indicates that Jesus Christ liked to eat. In addition to the notable Last Supper, he dined at the home of Martha and Mary; grilled fish at the seashore; multiplied loaves and fishes; was a guest at a friend's wedding at Cana; and ate with friends on the road to Emmaus. After healing Peter's mother-in-law, she got up and prepared a meal for Him and His coterie. It's a small wonder then that Hunter Parrish, who plays Jesus in the Broadway revival of GODSPELL, chooses to be interviewed over lunch at one of his favorite Chelsea eateries.

Parrish, who appears in the Showtime series WEEDS, doesn't exactly fit The Common concept of what Jesus looked like. He doesn't have long hair, a beard or scars on his hands and feet. Rather, the actor has stylishly feathered blond hair, azure blue eyes and a complexion so clear that it's ready for any close-up that a Hollywood director might request. Oddly, he's a tad shorter than one might expect because he seems to tower over his on-stage cohorts in the Stephen Schwartz musical. He is, however, outgoing and intelligent. After a few minutes of conversation, it becomes apparent that he's also quite spiritual and considers himself a "liberal Christian."

Born in Richmond, Virginia and raised in Plano, Texas, Parrish is the son of an occupational therapist and an engineer. The actor/singer got his start at a very young age performing in church cantatas, where his parents recognized his budding talents and got him involved in many local productions; invaluable experience. As he matured, he studied with two coaches, Kathryn Hart and Nancy Chartier, who he credits with guiding him in the honing of his skills.

It was in 2003 that Parrish began his television career with a role in THE GUARDIAN and sometime thereafter he did a tape that consisted of "making out with a beautiful girl". He soon forgot about it and was filming an independent movie in Montana when he got a call telling him that it had gained him a trip to meet the creator and the executives at the Showtime Network. "In television jargon, that's called 'going network' and it was after that meeting I was told I had the job," the actor remembers As he recalls the moment, Parrish still seems to experience some incredulity about its reality. The television series will soon begin its eighth season. The young actor has since appeared in guest shots on such series as CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION and CLOSE TO HOME. He's also appeared in feature length movies, most notably in IT'S COMPLICATED, the 2009 comedy starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. In that film, Parrish is seen as Luke, Streep's youngest son. Currently in release is the movie LAKESHORE'S GONE.

WEEDS gave Parrish quite a bit of exposure and it was at that time he did a live, in-person audition for a Broadway-aimed musical entitled SPRING AWAKENING. Again, the actor pretty much forgot about doing the tape when he was called upon not for the first cast, but as a replacement in the role of Melchior. It turned out to be an experience he treasures to this day. Still he has some regrets. "You see, as an actor, one of the things I enjoy most is the rehearsal process. As a fit-in, I didn't have the opportunity to explore the character in the studio before facing an audience. I ultimately did get to explore Melchior, but that was in performance. It's a little different."

His run in SPRING AWAKENING made Hunter Parrish a familiar topic on theater message boards and he became very popular at the stage door. When this topic is broached, Parrish chuckles in an abashEd Manner that reflects the pride and embarrassment he experienced by being so popular with the audiences that the musical attracted.

Now he finds himself playing Jesus in a show that is very popular with the same demographics that SPRING AWAKENING attracted. When Jeff Fenholt played the title role in the original 1972 production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, he was quoted in Ellis Nassour's book Rock Opera as saying, "Sometimes I dread walking out the stage door. You know, I think they forget they are only seeing an actor on stage…I have gotten letters from women asking me to find their lost husbands, from others asking for a miracle cure. It's terribly frustrating because they want desperately to be helped, and I can't do anything." Parrish hasn't experienced anything like that at all in this GODSPELL. "People seem to appreciate what I've done in the performance and I've gotten many letters thanking me for 'the journey' that they've been taken on. They seem very eager to share their appreciation for that. In my opinion, I'm just the person who gets up there and says the words. I feel that God moves in the way He wants to move. I don't think anyone would look at me and think I could change anything in their lives. I truly respect people who have appreciated my performance. Audience members have written to me about that and it's nice…but there haven't been any requests for miracles," he adds with a laugh.

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Joe Panarello is one of those people who have most certainly been born with theater in their blood. As an actor, Joe has played such varied roles as Harry Roat in Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark, Jimmy Smith in No, No Nanette and Lazer Wolf in Fiddler on the Roof a vehicle he's performed in several times and designed the sets for on one occasion. He's also directed productions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park and Henrich Ibsen's Peer Gynt. Joe is a respected author and although his latest work, The Authoritative History of Corduroy won't be published until this summer, it is already being translated into several different languages by a group of polyglot nuns in Tormento, Italy.. The proceeds from their labors will go to the restoration of the nearby Cathedral of Gorgonzola.