by Rita Charleston
She’s not the first female to have done it, and she may not be the last. But this time around, the role of Jesus in “Godspell” at Old Academy Players in East Falls is being played by Amy Tarr. “I’m so excited to be making my debut at Old Academy and, as a woman, to be taking the role of Jesus. I showed up for the auditions and was willing to do any part I could get. So when they offered me the role of Jesus, I immediately said yes,” Tarr recalls.
Yes, Tarr is one of a handful of women who have done the role before, but, she says, you shouldn’t think of Jesus in the traditional way. “Because the role was originally written for a man, some things had to be re-worked. For instance, initially Jesus was seen as rather goofy and comedic, but we play it with more warmth and caring. “Another challenge is the gender thing, but I know there have been other productions where females played Jesus, so I think the role can certainly be played by either gender. The audience will recognize me as a woman, although I don’t particularly make note that I am a female. I just play the role as best I can.”
According to Tarr, “Godspell” was never intended to be a show about religion but about community. With music by Stephen Schwartz and book by John Michael Tebelak, the show, directed by Annie Hnatko, is based on the gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, and speaks and sings a litany of love and hope.
With enactment of several parables, including the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the woman taken in adultery and others, it leads a ragtag group of disciples into the realization of the nature of the person they are following. The music is eclectic and includes such standards as “Day By Day.”
Although this is her first performance with Old Academy, Tarr has been active in various community theaters for almost 15 years. A native of Ohio who now lives in Fishtown, offstage she is employed as a social worker. “I think acting and social work have something in common,” she said. “They are both about bringing something to others and I believe highly creative.”
Studying at Ohio State and later at the University of Illinois, Tarr said she enjoyed her years of study but admits there was always a little voice inside her that kept telling her she really wanted to sing and act. “I’ve always loved to sing and help others, and now I’m able to do both. And I especially love doing musical theater. It’s a way for me to sing and express myself on stage.”
Today, at the age of 32, Tarr said she’d never want to stop being a social worker and hopes to never stop being part of community theater. Most recently, she portrayed Abby with The Philadelphia Performance Project’s “If the Slipper Fits,” which was part of the 2013 Fringe Festival.
“I think others who want to be on stage should never stop auditioning because you never know what might come your way. Just have confidence in yourself.”
“Godspell” continues at Old Academy Players, 3544 Indian Queen Lane, on weekends through June 28. For tickets, call the box office at 215-843-1109.