Finding Jesus on 50th Street

This week, my sweet little Sage found Jesus.

He’s blonde, about 6′ tall and has a killer voice. He also goes by the name Hunter Parrish, and happens to play the lead role in Godspell in Broadway.

You might also know him from Weeds? Which is kind of a different role.

I can’t blame Sage for falling madly in love with him–after all he’s adorable, he’s great on a trampoline, and he shoots confetti into the audience. All important traits to a four year-old.

As for Nate, the Christopher Hitchens-admiring, fist-shaking Atheist, I can sense his discomfort as Sage runs around the house screaming, I WANT TO BE JESUS! I’M GOING TO BE JESUS! I LOVE JESUS!

Discomfort is an understatement. It’s giving him a permanent twitch.

“Nate, she also wants to be Violet Beauregarde,” I remind him. And Charlie Bucket. And Ponyo. And Wall-E. And the twins down the hall. And a cat. And Annie. In fact, she and Thalia can’t watch a movie with immediately “calling” who gets to be whom. Thus, it’s not unimaginable that right now, she wants to be the cute blond guy who sings Day by Day.

You know. Jesus.

It’s partly my fault, I imagine. When I was prepping them for the show I told them it was the story of Jesus. “You know…the magic guy.”

(I learned this past Passover that “magic” is a really perfect substitute for “God” for us at any given point in the story. Good trick, for those of us PSLAJs. Feel free to steal it.)

Really, who doesn’t want to see a play about a magic guy?

So when Mama Drama offered us tickets to the Broadway revival, I was thrilled. Godspell was one of my very favorites as a kid. So much so, that when I was 8, my best friend Tamar and I choreographed our own, pathetically awful dance to All for the Best. Emboldened by accolades from friends and family (all those spectacular kick-ball-changes, no doubt), we wrote a letter to the producers to inform them about our most excellent dance.

They wrote us back.

They not only wrote us back, they invited us backstage to perform it for the cast and crew one weekend.

Oh, did we rehearse. We rehearsed like you’ve never seen 8 year-olds rehearse for anything. We rehearsed like were going to be the first ever 8 year-olds on Solid Gold. Which was interesting, considering surely my debut appearance on Solid Gold would be performing Dancing Queen. All for the Best was much more Star Search material.

Days before our Broadway debut, I still remember the second letter that came in the mail. I tore it open eagerly–were they offering us a part? Were they telling us we would be the first ever third-graders to make a Godspell cameo on Broadway without so much as an audition? Our dreams were coming true!


The news was not good. One of the play’s producers had died and the show was closing on Broadway.

Our performance was canceled; our dance never to be seen outside the small bit of floor space just off the yellow shag rug in my parents’ living room.

Now, exactly 35 years later (wow), it’s like unfinished business coming full circle. It all floods back as my kids discover the same joy of real, grown-up musical theater. I watch Thalia flit and fly and spin around the room to Day by Day (she makes me start “at the fast part”) as Sage acts out the sheep/goat parable to the best of her memory and argues that “Prepare Ye” is really a single word called preparey. Rhymes with hairy.

They are indeed my children.

They love theater. They love Godspell. And I love that they love it.

Even if it means we keep reminding them that the way Daddy and I believe it, it’s only a story. Like Zeus. Like Rapunzel. But that we like the story,  because Jesus taught such great lessons about being nice to each other, and caring about people more than money, being nice to our parents, and how it’s okay for even adults to jump on trampolines.

So you can hardly blame Sage for running up to every adult at school she can find this week, and telling them that she she saw Godspell and that Jesus is her favorite guy and she loves him.

Then she makes this sad face with the longest frown that could break the hardest man’s heart and whispers, “but I cwied at the end.

Because he dies.”

It’s true.

I hope I didn’t spoil it for anyone.


27 thoughts on “Finding Jesus on 50th Street”

  1. And with that, let me recommend Christopher Moore’s book “Lamb…..the Gospel According to Biff”. It’s for adults, it’s cynical, it’s very funny, it’s very smart and it tells “the story” of everything that happened to Jesus between the time he was born and the time he died………..nobody seems to have much to say about those years. Definitely not for children.

    1. See it! See it! I mean, we don’t get mad at Mary Poppins “because it’s not true,” right? It’s a wonderful musical.

  2. This is excellent, thank you! It’s nice to see how another parent is facing being an atheist in the world of Christianity with dignity and humor, so thank you for sharing.

  3. Watching my kids geek out to musical theater has been one of my greatest joys as a parent.

    Also, I saw Hunter Parrish in Spring Awakening and I share your daughter’s enthusiasm about him.

  4. An old friend from my Williamstown Theatre Festival days is the director, so kind of like God in this scenario, no 😉

    I adore Sage’s passion and am so grateful to know of other little girls who are left breathless and devoted long after the curtain call.

  5. I remember a fantastic production at my college–I also fell in love with the musical. It is really fun. I think you can enjoy it without “believing” because it is teaches lessons we can all live by.
    (I wouldn’t recommend the film, even if it does have some very recognizable cast members. It’s much better live.)

    1. Oh my GAWWWWD Jennifer – I have been watching the YouTube clips with the kids for the music and oy is it painful. VIctor Garber as Jesus with a clown afro–not one of his finer moments.

      1. Uh-oh, warned you! Every time I see him now, it’s “Look! It’s Jesus!”

  6. Jesus dies? Well now I’m definitely never going to church. No suspense in it at all for me anymore.

    It’s been very interesting so far explaining religion and God to my 5 year old. He has a few friends whose families are religious (and Catholic – we’re a little bit Jewish so it’s interesting contrast), and he tells me stuff he hears from them, and it ranges from Santa/Easter Bunny type stories to creationism-related info (God made the trees and all the animals and…). He asks me point blank whether I think God is real and I’ve told him I don’t know. He asked my MIL and she said she believes he’s real, but that God is not a person like you and me. Then he said, “oh, so God is dead then?” I’ll leave it at that.

  7. I grew up in a mixed religion household. My dad’s side is Jewish, my mom’s side Catholic. There were a lot of mixed messages. One of my favorite memories of my (Jewish) grandma is when I asked her, “Who is Jesus?” and without a moment’s hesitation she replied, “He was a naughty Jewish boy who did not listen to his parents.” When I repeated this to my mom, she was aghast. I learned a lot (TONS! YEARS OF KNOWLEDGE!) about perspective and respecting other people’s viewpoints from this.

    And musicals are fantastic! I look forward to introducing my daughter to the wonders of musical theater!

  8. “You know…the magic guy.” LOVE this. I’ll keep that explanation in my back pocket for the next time my son has questions about God and religion (as he recently asked, “what are churches for? Voting?” — because about the only time he’s been in a church is when we’ve gone to vote).

  9. I think God is real and I’ve told him I don’t know. He asked my MIL and she said she believes he’s real, but that God is not a person like you and me. i am so glad that i found this post i can’t wait to share this to my friends….

  10. awesome! As a progressive, liberal, non-Christian Unitarian, I’m keeping the term “magic” to explain Jesus to my kids. I usually explain that he was “a great guy” and then get kind of muffled and confused when I try to explain further.

  11. I only just found your blog this week. A friend linked to your “best games for kids” post. Then I clicked from there to the one you wrote about the “best games for 1-year-olds.” As we have a 1-year-old (and a 3-year-old), it was perfect. Just perfect.

    After this, I’m even more thrilled I added you to my reader.

    I love you.

    Totally stealing that “magic” thing. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Em! Love you too. In that “we just met but you seem nice” kind of way. (I don’t want to rush things.)

  12. 1st visit to your lovely space. Thank you for having me. You’ve decorated so lovely. 😉

    Timing is a funny thing. The two things I’ve been pondering/dealing with are whether my girls are old enough for a musical and the whole religion thing.

    They want to go see the “live showy concert stage” from the commercials that are advertised. I’m thinking I might give it a whirl ‘n see. Thanks for the push!

    They haven’t asked religious questions, but the Biiiiiiiiiible BeeeeelTAH *preacher voice* is so thick here. So.Incredibly.Thick. Ya can’t hardly breathe. I’ll be sticking around to read your other links you’ve posted in this piece. I like your vibe when broaching the subject. 🙂

  13. HE DIES??? OMIGOD. Really, there should be a spoiler alert in the title of that post. Except wait. You could play her a song by John Prine, called “Jesus, the Missing Years,” in which it is explained that for a number of years Jesus moves to Rome and starts a record company.
    Makes as much sense as anything else, really.

  14. Mercy. Sage’s perspectives and YOUR servings scoops of it have me rolling this morning. Thank you for that!

  15. To this day, exiting a ski lift that has a sign “Prepare to unload,” I sing it to “Prepare ye the way of the lord,” because that’s what my brother and I did as kids. Loved “Godspell” back then, and only saw the stage version as an adult in college (can’t believe it was Victor Garber in the movie, I just realized that a few months ago!). My girls love musicals (they know all of “Wicked” and clean parts of “Rent”), but I haven’t taken them to a real show yet. You’ve definitely inspired me (and outshined me, my best friend and I only practiced routines from “Grease,” nothing as fantastic as “Godspell”). Think I’ll try the magic guy w/my girls too, religion is just so sticky to explain.

    Congrats on the Parents’ award – so very deserved!!!

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