Tempe teen’s role brings rock-star status to performance of ‘Godspell’
Story by M.V. Moorhead
Photo by Billy Hardiman
Early on in rehearsals for Seton Catholic
Preparatory High School’s production of
Godspell, director Brigid O’Neill instructed her
cast members to develop a back-story for their roles.
This led Austin Weigel, who plays Jesus, to attempt a
modified fast intended to simulate the experience of
the 40 days in the desert.
Maya Chavez chose less of a stretch.
“I decided to become an aspiring rock star,” says
Chavez. “That wouldn’t even be a role for me.”
Indeed not. The 16-year-old Tempe resident
is already the veteran of rock band The Moment is
Aflame, which has toured to L.A.’s Whiskey a Go-Go.
In a less secular vein, Chavez notes, “I do choir
Godspell uses both the pious and the worldly
side of Chavez’s personality—it’s a devotional musical
in which Chavez sings a burlesque-style number,
“Turn Back, O Man.”
The show, which was a hit on Broadway in 1976
and has been endlessly mounted by regional, college
and high school companies before being revived on
Broadway in 2011, is a retelling of the Gospel of St.
Matthew performed by clowns using street-theater
techniques like sight gags and topical references.
Each production is shaped, to some extent, by its
actors, who draw upon their own personalities to
build their characters.
“This production is very different than anything
Seton has ever done,” says Chavez. “It’s very
It’s the second show at Seton for Chavez, and
the first musical—she was in the non-musical Play
On last year. Not surprisingly, she hopes to pursue
“I would like to go to college for music education
or music therapy,” says the Seton junior. But of
course, she wouldn’t say no to being a rock star.
Her castmate Hayley Pugh, on the other hand,
hopes to study biology or marine biology at college.
But she too says “I want to keep on singing.”
Pugh is responsible for two of Godspell’s
powerhouse numbers, “By My Side” and “We
Beseech Thee”—“The highest and the lowest songs
in the show,” notes the senior, a Phoenix Girls Choir
It’s her fifth musical at the school—she played
one of the “Silly Girls” in Beauty and the Beast and
Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz—and she’s appeared
in several of Seton’s non-musical productions as well.
But Godspell is different, Pugh asserts. “It’s a
fairly small cast, so it’s more of a community thing.
In a lot of the musicals, there’s like 40 kids, so
you don’t get to know everybody. But this is like a
Chavez echoes this. “There are only 18 of us, so
this cast is more of a family. It’s been an amazing
The driver, so to speak, for said amazing ride is
director O’Neill, who’s been on the English faculty
at Seton for two years, but has only this year taken
charge of the school’s drama program.
The Buffalo, N.Y., native studied at St.
Bonaventure, Marquette and NAU but also did a stint
at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New
York City before deciding “I wanted more stability.”
Prior to her time at Seton, she taught at
Buffalo’s all-girl Immaculata Academy and directed
For some shows they dressed girls in boys’
costumes; for others they borrowed actual boys from
a nearby all-boy school.
After such privations, working from a co-ed
talent pool like Seton’s must be breeze. Still, directing
Godspell required some hard choices. One was the
size of the cast.
“The first thing I did, which was weird, was I
almost doubled the size of the cast. I’ve seen it done
with more than the original 10, and I don’t like that,
because it’s supposed to be this intimate thing.”
But in high school theater, “The musical is
when you’re supposed to get 40 or 50 kids in. So I
increased it to 18. I’m trying to walk the line between
keeping it intimate and getting more students
Godspell plays through Feb. 14 at Seton Catholic
Preparatory High School.
For details go to setoncatholic.org.