Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre’s Journey to a Beautiful City

Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre’s Journey to a Beautiful City

On the last warm sunny day of the Autumn season in the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, a group of 32 students aged 11 through 18 sing “Day by Day” from the iconic stage production Godspell JR. They blow bubbles, twirl batons, do backflips, and belt the iconic lyrics of Stephen Schwartz for their parents, friends, and New Yorkers alike. They sing of community, building each other up, and comradery. The Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre has performed in their community of Fairhope, Alabama since 2013 and only 8 years later have had their first opportunity to perform in New York City.

“What could be better than being stopped in my tracks with ‘Day by Day’? This has been a difficult time for everyone, especially for those who, like me, lost loved ones during this pandemic.”, said New Yorker and audience member Susan Hanrahan.

But how did this beautiful production come to fruition? During the worldwide shutdown in 2020, director Erin Langley sought to find purpose as an artist. On one of her walks one day, she finally asked herself what she would create if there was nothing to stop her? With special permission from Music Theatre International and Stephen Schwartz himself, Langley brought the actors of Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre and their families to New York City to perform Godspell JR. in honor of Godspell’s 50th anniversary earlier this year.

"It was a wonderful experience to be a part of a show that tells a greater story that can touch people in so many ways.”, said 17-year-old performer Meg Haynes. Audience members were excited and moved by each musical number and monologue the young performers executed with perfect grace. But one performance inspired, affected, and truly moved the audience and the cast to tears.

Sixteen-year-old Joe Soloman, who has been performing with Eastern Shore Rep for 10 years, considered it an “honor” to play the lead role of Jesus. And the day and performance could not have gone more perfectly. “It felt like a huge reward. It was magical.”

Accompanying the students to New York City as audience members, were the parents, guardians and families of the performers, their energy remaining high and infectious throughout the performance. Of course, there were a few sacrifices that were made on behalf of the performers and their families, but according to parent Laura Brown, each one was completely worth it. “As a parent of a Junior in High School, this opportunity, however with a few hurdles, was a once in a lifetime performance that we could not turn down. Watching my daughter’s reaction to missing out on social events due to practices, as well as keeping up with her advanced school schedule and being out for a week, was a bit of a struggle. But, seeing Elle perform on the Bandshell stage in Central Park and watching her shine the way she did, made it all worth it. The show, the cast, the crew, the music, the costumes, the venue, the weather, the unique crowd, and the pigeons watching from above, made this inspirational performance what it became! A dream come true!”

Langley and her students took a risk sharing their rendition of Godspell JR. and its beauty to New York City, a community vastly different than that of Fairhope, but it was a decision that made an impact on the largest park in Manhattan. “The magic of Godspell and theater itself was alive and well in Central Park! We’re so grateful to have had the opportunity.”