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‘Godspell’ moves, bonds cast members

The sense of camaraderie and community felt by Jesus and his Disciples in “Godspell” spills over into the personal lives of the male members in the cast.

 “It is rare for a group of actors to bond as quickly as the 10 of us have done,” said Andy Hernandez, who plays John the Baptist and Judas in this Stephen Schwartz musical — the composer and lyricist for “Wicked.”

Adds Jamel Booth, who plays Herb, “We get the same kind of bond that the characters in ‘Godspell’ have. We are like a family. We do so much together and go out of our way to help each other.”

Most of the cast members have been friends since they auditioned at the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) and performed together in “Cinderella” and the Red, White & Blue Patriotic Concert at The Prizery.

 “A lot of times we hang out at one of the castmates’ houses. We have parties and get to know each other as individuals, and it brings us closer in the rehearsals,” said Jacob Estes, who plays Jesus. The group has gone to water parks, malls in Durham, the movies and local restaurants. Most of them stay as houseguests of local residents. 

“It is wonderful to see how much the community supports The Prizery and the arts,” Estes added.

Estes, portraying Jesus, is unique in being the youngest member of the cast at 18, yet winning the leading role in “Godspell.”

 “He has a great voice, great charisma and a very gentle spirit,” said Director Chris Jones. 

A sophomore at Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee, Estes said the Jesus role was a special challenge because “Jesus is the opposite of my personality. I am not usually the life of the party, and I am soft-spoken.” 

Estes, who grew up as a Baptist, says the role should be played with caution, and he does not make Jesus a ‘clowny’ character as some actors have.”

At Bethel University, Estes performed in such plays as “Jekyll and Hyde” (title role), “Carousel” (Billy Bigelow) and “Into the Woods” (Baker). 

A native of Medina, Tennessee, he would like to pursue a theatrical career but as a backup plan is majoring in music education.

Hernandez, bringing to life John the Baptist and Judas, leads the chorus in “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” in his important role in “Godspell.” 

Hernandez is from Newport, Rhode Island, got an undergraduate degree at The Ohio State University, and he is in his third year in the masters of fine arts acting program at the University of South Carolina. 

He spent last summer at Theatre West Virginia, where he performed in “Hatfield and McCoys” (Ellison Hatfield), “Honey in the Rock” (Sneath) and other shows. This coming school year, he will perform with the Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk as part of his masters program. 

After that, he said, “Performing is what I plan to do and God willing will continue to do for the rest of my life.”

Scott Gaines, acting the character of Lamar, is a native of Hondo, Texas, and a graduate of Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi.  In Jackson, he appeared last summer at the New Stage Theater in such shows as “Dracula” (Jonathan Harker), “Annie” (Ickes/Healy) and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Demetrius). 

After The Prizery season, he plans to go to Washington to audition for musical and acting roles and eventually to New York. 

Of “Godspell,” he said, “The show teaches about living in community, whether you are Christian, Buddhist, atheist or anything.”

Jamel Booth, playing Herb, just graduated from Shorter University in Rome, Georgia, where he performed in “Pride and Prejudice” (Mr. Collins), “Othello” (Othello) and “Angel Street” (Sergeant Rough).  

A native of Camden County, Georgia, he plans to go to Chicago the day after the last performance and audition for musical and theatrical roles there. 

Booth says he is moved by “Godspell,” which takes parables of the Bible and puts a modern-day spin on them.

“Godspell” opens Friday, July 13, and runs July 14, 19, 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m., with matinee performances on July 14, 15, 18, and 21 at 3 p.m.