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BWW Interviews: Breaking Bread with GODSPELL'S Hunter Parrish

It seems a bit incongruous for a young man with a religious background and solid Christian beliefs to be appearing on a television series in which marijuana sales play a strong and repeated role. After all, Parrish's Playbill bio concludes with a reference to Matthew 7:13 ["Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it." GNFMB] How does the actor reconcile performing in WEEDS with his spiritual nature?

Parrish becomes pensive before responding and he exhales slightly before verbalizing his thoughts. "It's difficult. I chose to do WEEDS eight years ago and that was a time before I had any spiritual maturity. It's my belief that we, as humans, have the choice to pave our own paths and that God's going to use us as best He can regardless of the path we choose if we are so willing. It may not have been His choice for me to do WEEDS but He's been doing His best to use me as His tool for the last eight years. That's pretty much how I view it at this point in my life. Some time in the future I may gain more spiritual maturity and realize that it wasn't something that God appreciated. For now, though, I'm grateful for the opportunity. It's changed my life and in a strange way it's actually brought me closer to Him. The bottom line is I have to pay the bills." There's another short pause and his thought process pretty much works its way across his face. :"With maturity," he continues, "I might have made some different decisions. I went into the series with naiveté .but it's opened doors for me. Certainly I wouldn't have gotten this show or SPRING AWAKENING had it not been for WEEDS. I guess what I'm saying is that WEEDS may not have been the choice God wanted for me eight years ago but He chose to lead me here, therefore I can't look back."

"I believe that doing GODSPELL at this point in my life has been very good for me and for many other people; some really great people who will remember our show . There are lots of new theatergoers coming to this production, like the group of seven year olds who were really touched by what we did. They came up to the entire cast afterwards and said, 'That was so amazing! Thank you so much!' They were seven years old and this was their first Broadway experience. I remember my first Broadway play and that's why I'm an actor!"

One of the most theatrical moments in this production of GODSPELL is the Crucifixion. People may recall the original version of the show when Stephen Nathan simulated the death of Christ on a chain link fence. It was both appropriate and effective for that particular stage. The current version plays at the Circle In The Square Theater and such a staging wouldn't work in-the-round. Without resorting to "spoilers", director Daniel Goldstein has devised something that not only works dramatically, but adds a spectacular dash to the last ten minutes of the musical. It's also something that requires enormous stamina and concentration on Parrish's part. Jeff Fenholt had problems performing that scene in the original SUPERSTAR, saying, "When you have to die eight times a week and try to reenact the Crucifixion with dignity and without overdramatization, it gets to you after a while. I think it's made me more neurotic." Parrish doesn't quite agree. "It's difficult, that's for sure, but I doubt very much that it's made me neurotic in any way. I could become emotional and there are times when I come close to that, but I just have to focus on what I'm doing and stay in-the-moment." Parrish may be keeping his emotions in check for the Crucifixion sequence but many people in the audience were dabbing their eyes with Kleenex during that pivotal scene at a recent performance.

There is a moment in GODSPELL that has puzzles those who have any familiarity with Scripture. The Gospels clearly state that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, yet in both the original production that played at Off Broadway's Promenade Theater and the current Broadway revival, it is Jesus who kisses Judas on the cheek. Why was such a liberty taken with a show purports to be based on Matthew's Gospel?

Hunter Parrish takes a deep breath and another pause before addressing this particular question. "Wow!" he says. "That's a loaded question! My connection with the story is pretty strong. I obviously have my ideas and beliefs of how things should go down. I also understand that my place as an actor is to do as I'm told. Our director had another vision for that. At first I fought it a lot. I said, 'That's not how it happened and we're going to confuse a lot of people who are sitting in the audience. We might even influence the forward motion of people being affected by this story because they'll be trying to figure out why Jesus is kissing Judas. That's not what happened.' Our director did not agree. That's cool. Actually what he wanted for that moment was less about being true to history and more about showing Jesus' forgiveness and compassion despite Judas' act. There's no scripted line of 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do' in this show and that was Danny Goldstein's moment for that to happen. I believe that's what that particular moment is about."

GODSPELL, as most theatergoers know, has a wonderful score. "Day By Day", "Turn Back, O Man", "On The Willows", "We Beseech Thee" and "All For The Best" are just a few of the songs that the audience comes into the theater humming. This version of the show adds a tune from the movie version, "Beautiful City", which Parrish performs in sensitive and effective rendition. "We dropped it a half step," he mentions. It comes at the end of the show and I've been singing and talking the whole time. I was never going to be able to hit in the simplistic way that it should be performed if I was struggling for the notes. So we dropped it a bit and it was a good choice." It definitely was because "Beautiful City" is one of the loveliest moments in the show. It also serves as a fine segue into the more serious moments to follow.

Hunter Parrish has branched out and has written a few tunes that he's recorded on an EP which is being sold in the theater lobby. It is titled "Guessing Games" and will be marketed more broadly soon. "It's a chance for me to show people that I write my own music and to share other aspects of myself," he said. "GODSPELL has given me plenty of encouragement and I feel now is the time to explore another side of me." The EP is selling well.

Parrish confesses to having a favorite moment in GODSPELL. "We have this segment after Telly [Leung] sings "All Good Gifts". At that point we all hold hands going into the circle quickly and releasing really quickly. It's a great moment for us to gather and check in with each other as a cast. In the second act there's the moment when we all say goodbye to each other, so there's that moment, but after "All Good Gifts," there's that quick moment for the ten people on stage to be with each other. I look forward to that at every performance"

At the end of the conversation with Hunter Parrish, there hadn't been any miracles. No water had been turned into wine, no loaves or fish had been multiplied, nor had any tilapia been grilled over any charcoal fires. What was left was a very positive impression that Hunter Parrish is an actor who has great gifts and cares very much about his craft. Just as the Biblical tradition has a woman named Veronica having an imprint of Christ's face left on the cloth she wiped His visage with, Hunter Parrish leaves an imprint on the minds of audiences with his talents. Over a casual lunch, that imprint includes a strong sense of intelligence and appreciation for those he works with.

To purchase tickets for GODSPELL, go to: http://www.godspell.com/

[Hunter Parrish will be leaving the cast of GODSPELL on April 15th to resume his work on the television show WEEDS. Corbin Bleu will assume the role of Jesus on April 17th]

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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.