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Godspell Helps Build a Beautiful STU City


Adam Perez-Pinon, who was three years old when he was put back together by doctors following a horrific car accident, recently did his own construction and rebuilding effort as the set designer for St. Thomas University’s Musical Theatre rendition of Godspell.

Adrian Lopez, the lead singer of the rock band TheLoudLoversss, played Jesus Christ in Godspell, going from head-banging creator of original music to a starring role as actor/vocalist in a famed musical.

Dr. Elizabeth Turner, who discovered STU years ago while looking for a doctoral program where she could also “embrace my Catholic faith,” is an accomplished performer who now spends much of her time inspiring the next generation of young people with a passion for Broadway-type shows.

Perez-Pinon, Lopez, and Dr. Turner are just three of the many personal stories of the people who made Godspell happen April 28-30 at Monsignor Pace High School, STU’s neighbor.

It was the first full-on musical performed by STU students since Turner was hired as Director of Vocal Arts in January of 2021. Dr. Turner’s career as a singer/actress has taken her to many parts of the world, including Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and the Caribbean.

“I was living in New York City and working in the music-publishing industry when I stumbled across St. Thomas and their remote program in Educational Leadership and Innovation,” Dr. Turner said.

“It sparked my interest because I was looking for a doctoral program. I was looking for affordability and a curriculum with a Catholic faith.”

Living in New York made Dr. Turner’s thesis a natural, as she wrote about the challenges faced by female Broadway producers. Dr. Turner interviewed 10 female Broadway producers for her well-informed paper.

“I loved that St. Thomas allowed me to tailor my thesis to my love for theatre while tying that to ethical leadership,” Dr. Turner said. “A couple of years later, St. Thomas invited me to come down and start a new music program in the midst of a pandemic, which hasn’t been easy but is rewarding.”

Which leads us back to Perez-Pinon, because few people have faced a more difficult challenge … and few people can match his love for theatre.

Perez-Pinon’s life changed forever on New Year’s Day 2007. He and his older brother Anthony, who was five at the time, were riding their newly-gifted battery-powered toy ATVs in the Biscayne Park section of Miami. Their parents, Katty and Antonio, were right there with them, walking the family’s dog when a hit-and-run driver struck the boys.

Anthony was flung into some bushes and escaped with relatively minor physical injuries.

Adam Perez-Pinon was stuck under the car and was dragged for several blocks.

The driver was never caught.

Perez-Pinon spent several months at Jackson Memorial Hospital, recovering from serious injuries.

“I nearly died,” said Perez-Pinon, who is now an STU first-year student majoring in Communications and Media Studies. “I had a brain injury, a broken femur, a big scar on my right leg … I still can’t fully bend my right arm, and there’s a problem with my left foot, but I’m just pushing forward.”

When Perez-Pinon was about 10 years old, his life changed again – but this time for the better.

“My mother introduced me to Phantom of the Opera, a musical about a disfigured man,” Perez-Pinon said. “I connected with the musical because I survived getting hit by a car that disfigured me.”

Perez-Pinon said he fell in love with the theatre and his passion continues.

“I love all aspects of the theatre,” he said. “I want to be anywhere in the theatre. I would be happy even if I’m just part of the crew that sweeps the tinsel off the stage.”

Perez-Pinon did much more than that for STU’s production of Godspell.

He approached Dr. Turner and volunteered to design a set, and then he made it happen. Although he had been part of the drama program at Monsignor Pace for nearly four years – taught by Marianne Martinez — he had never designed a set all on his own before.

“I asked (Turner) what kind of set she had in mind,” Perez-Pinon said. “She wanted bricks, and a New York City kind of vibe.

“The set was designed three times. The first one was too expensive and not practical because we had to disassemble and move to Pace. The second one was still too complex. But the third one was simpler and movable.

“It was surreal. I would never have imagined that something I drew on my iPad would become our stage.”

Perez-Pinon, who admits to being shy, said working on Godspell has helped him make friends, discovering a community of professors, staff, and fellow students.

He has enjoyed brainstorming ideas on how to fix problems that come up, and he said he can hardly wait for Dr. Turner to tell him about her plans for the next STU musical.

Said Perez-Pinon: “I’m eager for the day (Turner) tells me, ‘Here’s our show. Go do your thing (with set design).’”

Lopez, who played Jesus, is also anticipating the next show.

An 18-year-old first-year student who is majoring in Marketing, Lopez said he wanted to go to a musical school for college. But he also wanted a background in business so he could learn how best to market his band.

“When St. Thomas hired (Turner), it was the perfect blend,” Lopez said. “I could learn more about music and performing while also learning how to create an image in marketing.

“It was a great opportunity to grow with the university.”

Lopez said the cast and crew of STU’s Godspell production worked exceptionally hard from January to April, often meeting at 3pm and working until 9 or 10pm.

“When you spend that much time with the same group of people,” Lopez said, “it creates a bond that becomes deeper than family.”

Another one of the students who worked on the musical was Matthew MacNamara, a 22-year-old senior majoring in Media and Communications with a minor in Sports Administration.

MacNamara, who aspires to a career as a video editor, said his time with Godspell helped him learn “the production side” of a musical.

“I thought the first night we were a little nervous,” MacNamara said.

“But, for the next two shows, we got better. We were more in sync. The Friday show allowed us to see where we could improve. I think our talent is limitless.”

Dr. Turner, who served as director/producer of STU’s Godspell, said she noticed her students grew more confident with each show.

“They added funny nuances to the shows as we went along,” said Dr. Turner, a Boston native. “With three shows, you have to keep up your stamina. There’s a different audience every night, so you have to keep it fresh each time – make it engaging.”

Dr. Turner’s husband, Andreas Haberlin, served as piano accompanist for the musical.

They met while studying at Berklee College of Music, a private school in Massachusetts.

Dr. Turner’s passion for music is obvious.

“I love all types of music – pop, rock, jazz, classical, you name it,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in all aspects of the performing arts. I’ve performed on national tours at theme parks and cruise ships, and I’ve worked as a director, composer, producer, and writer. I’ve seen a lot of the entertainment industry – on stage and backstage.”

When she arrived at STU, Dr. Turner assessed that she needed to build more community among students, faculty, and staff.

Dr. Turner quickly established performance traditions such as holiday concerts, and singing at Mass.

A choir group was started. Sheet music was gathered. New styles of music were explored.

In addition, STU’s scholarship program was revamped. Students can now audition and potentially earn scholarships.

In the STU production of Godspell, 14 students were used as actors. Ten students gained experience as part of the stage crew, working on set design, lighting, and sound.

Practices were held four times a week as students learned lines and choreography, and Dr. Turner assessed what roles would best suit each actor.

Because STU does not have a music major, these were all students who took time away from their primary area of study.

“It says a lot about our students that they take time outside their major to put so much effort and enthusiasm into the arts,” Dr. Turner said. “We welcome everyone – whether they have sung for 10 years or if, for example, they want to try an instrument for the first time.

“We will embrace everyone’s skills and talents.”

Dr. Turner said there is great potential to one day add music as a minor at STU. Doing that, she said, will help create more well-rounded students.

In addition, Dr. Turner would like to put on one “high caliber” musical per semester, which represents a ton of work.

“Students want an outlet to express their creativity, and that’s what we represent,” Dr. Turner said.

“Music is great because it’s a life-long journey. You can do music past your 100th birthday. You can sing, compose, conduct – there are so many parts of the industry.

“At St. Thomas University, we have the power to cultivate the arts. We have wonderful alumni who are working in arts and entertainment. Every year, we want to continue to build our program, step by step.

“We have the potential to be a great program.”

Walter Villa

Author Walter Villa

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