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Broadway's 'Godspell' is heaven-sent for its cast
Article by Mark Kennedy, Associated Press Drama Writer
Nov. 5, 2011

One was waiting tables at a Times Square seafood restaurant. Another was in Disney films and on tour with the Jonas Brothers. A third had performed at Carnegie Hall, but wondered when she'd land theater's biggest prize.

All three — George Salazar, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle and Celisse Henderson — are overjoyed to be making their Broadway debuts this month in a revival of Stephen Schwartz's "Godspell."

"For me, it's a dream come true," says Perez de Tagle while the others nod.

The trio is part of a 10-person cast that stars Hunter Parish, whose credits include Showtime's "Weeds" and Broadway's "Spring Awakening," as Jesus but also has plenty of young performers making their first foray onto a Broadway stage. The hip musical retelling of the New Testament's Gospel of Matthew opens Monday at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

The Tony-nominated score features the songs "Day by Day,""Turn Back, O Man,""Prepare Ye the Way" and "Light of the World" and the story — updated with modern jokes, including references to Kanye West and Occupy Wall Street — hits an infectious, hopeful tone.

"Godspell," which was an off-Broadway and Broadway smash in the 1970s and was made into a film in 1973, has been a mainstay of church groups, high schools and colleges ever since. Performers such as Jeremy Irons, Zach Braff, Gilda Radner, Madonna, Queen Latifah, Alice Ripley and Jon Hamm were in productions as young people.

In an interview deep below the theater, Salazar, Perez de Tagle and Henderson laugh and joke as they describe how they each took very different paths to end up singing and dancing together.

"One of the most beautiful things about being in this group is that everyone involved is so unbelievable grateful to be here, for one reason or another," says Salazar, 25.

The three are also soaking up media attention: They've been on "Late Show With David Letterman," photographed for Vanity Fair and were transformed into cartoons for a recent Broadway-themed episode of "South Park."

Salazar, who hails from Kissimmee, Fla., was serving drinks and dinner at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Times Square when he got a call this summer about the "Godspell" auditions. No problem, he thought: He had been in the second national tour of "Spring Awakening" and had stored up a few go-to songs.

But there was a catch. His manager said producers of the musical were also asking performers to prepare their own improvised take on a Bible parable. And Salazar had little time to prepare — his audition was the next day.

"Here I am with shrimp on trays and drinks in my hands, and I'm going, `When am I going to do this?'" he recalls.

Three months and five auditions later — including a nerve-racking one in front of Schwartz, who also composed the music and wrote the lyrics for "Wicked" — Salazar learned he had landed a role when his phone rang.

"I lost it. I was a sweaty, crying mess in the hallway on the ground. It was a moment I will never forget," he says. In honor of that moment, Salazar says he'll be wearing special Nikes on opening night featuring the number "08-26" — Aug. 26 — the day he was cast.

Perez de Tagle, the baby of the group at just 20, was flying into New York for a promotional event from her home in Los Angeles when her manager suggested she go to the "Godspell" audition.

Video: Anna Maria Perez de Tagle leads the Godspell cast in "Day by Day" followed by Fil-Am actor George Salazar, leading "Light of the World" on the David Letterman Show on CBS TV, Nov. 1, 2011

She had begun her career on stage in regional productions of "Cinderella,""The Wiz" and "The King and I" and lately had appeared on the Disney Channel's series "Hannah Montana," and in such films as "Fame" and "Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam." Last year, she toured with the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato.

But her heart was on stage, even if she wasn't familiar then with "Godspell.". Multiple callbacks — included flights back and forth from Los Angeles — made that dream possible and now she has happily moved to New York and started a new life.

"This whole journey, with these amazing people, is honestly the best thing that ever happened," she says, her voice cracking with emotion. "I'm different now. And it's all because of them."

Henderson's route has been the longest and most tortured. She was one of three actors in an earlier production of "Godspell" performed at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse in 2006. It was to make the jump to Broadway two years later, but the economic crash made that impossible.

A native of Oakland, Calif., 27-year-old Henderson has amassed varied credits: She was seen off-Broadway in "In Transit"; had a recurring role on "The Electric Company"; was in a national touring company of "Wicked"; and released her debut album "Show and Tell" last year. But Broadway was elusive. Until now.

"It's sort of come in a beautiful time in my life. I've been working in the business since I was 17," she says. "Now it's become the best thing that's ever happened to me."

The three stress how fun and close the cast has become, a feeling perfectly in tune with a musical that is about 10 people who are reclaiming their joy. "It's not like work for us. It's playing," says Perez de Tagle. "It's just so much fun."

"There are no egos, there are no personality clashes. Everyone works so well together and we have so much fun," adds Salazar. "We hope that there's a real long healthy run because, I don't want to stop working here."

Darren Criss talks about the Philippines, Charice and Lea Salonga
HOLLYWOOD BULLETIN by Janet Susan Nepales
Manila Bulletin, October 24, 2011

LOS ANGELES – Darren Criss did not disappoint the press. He was charming, eloquent, smart and funny when we finally caught up with him at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles.

It was his first time to meet the Hollywood Foreign Press Association members and Darren immediately teased, “Did we all do our homework? Shall I pass on a quiz or something?”

What Darren was probably not expecting was the day turning out into a “Filipino Day” as we asked Philippine-related questions to the half-Filipino, half-Irish “Glee” star who plays Blaine Anderson in the award-winning TV musical. His mother is from Cebu and his father has Irish ancestry.

We asked this San Francisco-born actor what were some of the things that struck him the most the first time he went to the Philippines. “I have been to the Philippines a few times and obviously, I think growing up in a western environment and going to a Third World country there are some obvious differences that will strike any person from the United States,” he said. “But I have family there so it is never where you are, it is who you are with. So being with my family tends to lean you toward the side where you are enjoying yourself.

“I love the Philippines. It is a very warm and inviting place. I think Filipinos are somewhat infamously embracive of other people with Filipino blood so I sort of am lucky in that sense. But I always enjoy myself. It is good to see family and obviously going back there now is a different story. It is strange to go to any country. It is strange to walk around the United States having this kind of magnifying glass on me at all. It is very strange but once again, it could be worse because it could be for something that I was not proud of. God forbid that I was involved in a project that I did not like, a character that I did not like, or a story I disagreed with. It is something that I think is actually quite lovely and I am happy to speak about it. If there is some kind of magnifying glass, thank God it is ‘Glee’ and not something that I dislike. So, the Philippines is a lovely place and I am very proud to say that I have some heritage there. It is pretty cool. Not a bad place to visit too. It’s beautiful.”

As for his favorite Filipino stars, the talented 24-year-old replied, “I don’t know. It is a bizarre culture because in many countries like the Philippines, Thailand and South Korea, there are many places that have these sub-cultures of huge pop culture there that just growing up in the United States you never hear about so I am not like twisting my mustache or avoiding the pop culture there. That is just the way it goes so I really could not name a whole lot of people.

“There are people who have crossed over to the United States obviously, Charice and the fact that she was on ‘Glee’ I was well aware of. And of course, one of my favorites, Miss Lea Salonga. If you are half a Broadway fan we know her body of work and we have recently become friends which is nuts to me but she is a lovely woman and a prime example of sort of breakthrough Filipino talent that I think kind of transcends the pond between us. And yeah, sure, I will say Lea because I am sure she will hear this at one point.”

When our German colleague teased that he had a German question, not a Filipino question, Darren wittily replied, “No, I was just going to say, it is actually quite appropriate because most of my family is like the United Nations because my family is in the Philippines and everybody moves out from the Philippines to many other countries so my family in the Philippines is actually a Bavarian. They are all from Munich. They live in Manila but it is a German-Filipino like. I am just telling you my whole family is all over the place. There is not a country here that I don’t have family in or that I have been to.”

Even in Africa, our colleague from South Africa, kiddingly asked.

“Yes I will marry into Africa,” Darren gamely replied.

Life outside ‘Glee’

Darren will be seen next January taking over the Broadway role of Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch in the revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” as well as appearing in the romantic comedy, “Imogene,” with no less than Annette Bening, Matt Dillon and Kristen Wiig as Imogene.

Of his Broadway debut, Darren said, “Well, I grew up as a theatre fan and was inadvertently been preparing for something like this my whole life, whether or not I knew I was going to do the show. It’s a show I am very familiar with. I have always been a Frank Loesser fan and I never thought in a million years I would ever do the show, much less on Broadway. But I have been preparing myself in a sort of fantasy way.

“When you talk to yourself in the mirror and think of what you are going to do one day, so I did not know what happened but here we are and I am just familiarizing myself with music and obviously. I am doing quite a bit of homework for a three-week run. You have to hit the ground sprinting so that’s kind of all on me. For all intents and purposes, I am sure I could dally about until rehearsal in December. But then, it wouldn’t really be worth anyone’s while so my preparation is mainly just being as completely familiar with every facet of the show before I even step foot into rehearsal.”

As for doing “Imogene,” Darren exclaimed, “I dreamed of pursuing music and acting in some way, shape or form but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that it would have fallen into as perfect a place as ‘Glee.’ So for me, I grew up wanting to do great indie films with great people, people that I admired and really just would love to surround myself with. So ‘Imogene’ was a prime example of that where I was like, this is just unbelievable when I found myself sitting in a room with Matt Dillon, the venerable Annette Bening and Kristen Wiig!”

Formerly a Manila journalist, Los Angeles-based Janet Susan R. Nepales is a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

E-mail the writer at for your comments or questions.