WILKES-BARRE —When Talia Johnson sings “Turn Back, O Man,” in the King’s College production of “Godspell,” her performance involves jumping into the arms of three castmates.
“One, two, three, go!” someone called at rehearsal, as the little group practiced her jump and the trio’s lift over and over.
“It’s a very burlesque-y, Mae-West-y kind of song,” Johnson, 18, of Nazareth, said afterward.
It’s also just one of many types of music represented in the updated show, in which a Jesus figure, played by Dylan Koch, of Hardyston, N.J., uses parables to teach his followers, just as the biblical Jesus did in the Gospel of St. Matthew.
“‘By My Side’ ” is like a ballad,” said Britney Benkoski, 20, of Exeter.
“There’s a sprinkling of vaudeville in ‘All For the Best,’” said Jessica Mulligan, 21, of Bethlehem.
“Light of the World” is presented “like Jimi Hendrix-style rock,” said director Dave Reynolds, who gives student set designer Rachel Vecillio credit for crafting the setting of the play as a modern-day music festival.
Vecillio, in turn, said she got the idea from real life.
“Some of Dave’s friends came back from Bonnaroo (a music festival in Manchester, Tenn.) and some have been to a (much smaller, private) three-day barbecue called McKeownFest,” she said.
In the spirit of Bonnaroo and McKeownFest, the ensemble, referred to as a “tribe” on the cast list, will camp out and cook around a faux fire while Jesus tells them parables with a few modern references, such as the one about a rich man who refused to give food (not even “a Chick-fil-A sandwich”) to a beggar at his door.
“At first I was really excited to have the role,” Koch said. “Then it kind of hits you, you have to portray Jesus … the pinnacle of love and acceptance.”
Mulligan said Koch has a natural aptitude for the role, perhaps because the show focuses on Jesus as a teacher and Koch is an education major, preparing for a lifetime of teaching.
One of the best aspects of “Godspell,” Benkoski said, is the way it shows people from diverse walks of life shedding their everyday identities and “all coming together as a community, as a family.”
“That’s what we’re doing here,” she added.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT
IF YOU GO
Where: George P. Maffei II Theatre, Administration Building, 133 N. River St., King’s College, Wilkes-Barre
When: Sept. 29 to Oct. 8 with performances 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. $12
Tickets: $7 seniors, $5 students