"Godspell" Audience Review - Virginia Louden

by Virginia Louden

ComingSoon_Godspell

I had the pleasure of attending Godspell at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka on Saturday night. I have attended quite a few plays at Lyric Arts over the years and I can honestly say that they have yet to disappoint me. For a small town theater, they truly know how to deliver the goods just as well as any of their big city rivals. While we all waited in anticipation, I heard someone behind me mention how small the cast was while they perused their program. Size truly didn't matter. The lights went dim, the ten person cast came out and during their opening number I felt goosebumps appear all over my arms. I knew right then that I was in for a treat.

Godspell, originally written in 1970 but recently adapted with a much more modern twist and feel, is a light and lively string of parables straight out of the Bible. Whether you are a religious person or not, watching this play, you won't be able to help but leave feeling energized and uplifted. Colin Hutchins, who plays Jesus, does a wonderful job delivering the stories and lessons graciously. I never felt like I was being preached to and I was kept on a wonderful roller coaster ride of giggles, chills and laugh out loud fun.

Director Robert Neu chose a fabulous cast of characters and they did a truly amazing job. Watching them was like watching VBS hopped up on a case of Redbull. Seriously. The energy coming from the stage was contagious. The live band was spot on and flowed through all of the songs and genres so smoothly. During the ensembles' group dances, there wasn't a toe out of line. And even more exciting were their harmonies. Oh, the harmonies! You truly have to experience them for yourself. The actors were all great singers individually, but the harmonies they created together were most inspiring.

I would like to spotlight a couple actors that stand out in my mind. Joshua Paul Smith surprised me with his control and power as a vocalist. I enjoyed his performance very much. Nicholas Kaspari was very fun to watch. His dance moves were superb and when combined with his comedic timing, it's sure to keep you rolling on the floor. And if you haven't seen Zach Marleau yet, you really should. I couldn't believe it when I read that he is only a junior in high school. He was absolutely hilarious and I cannot wait to see him in other productions. All in all, it was a fantastic show and I hope you get a chance to enjoy it, too.

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Virginia Louden is a local Anoka blogger and a full-time mom who has attended multiple Lyric Arts productions.

"Godspell" Audience Review - Gary Davis

Prepare the Way...Indeed

ComingSoon_Godspell

by Gary Davis

‘Prepare ye the way,’ the Baptist tells us after the prologue in Lyric Arts’ current production of Godspell.

I must admit I was not prepared.  However, I was impressed.  Enough so that I plan on visiting this show again later in the run to see how it changes, as all good shows do over time.

I WAS prepared for yet another production of a show that dots the seasons of high school theatres across the country and perhaps around the world.  I WAS prepared for young actors and lots of energy (which was delivered).  I WAS prepared for the standard school playground set (which was not).

What I wasn’t prepared for was a veritable 3 ring circus of humor, magic, vaudeville, choral mastery, and an OUTSTANDING ensemble of 10 actors and actresses that took this show, and its audience, by the throat and never let go from the opening modern-day Tower of Babble society attached to cellular devices to the dirge-filled removal of Jesus’ body after his crucifixion.

For those not familiar with Godspell, it is a musical born of the 1960’s counter-culture and a subsequent re-examining of the Christian religions that brought both Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar to the stage in 1971.  Godspell started out as creator John Michael Tebelak’s master’s thesis, but found its present form after Steven Schwartz rewrote the score.

When Godspell opened in 1971, it pre-dated the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar by several months and played to mixed reviews.  Where Superstar was a BIG musical, Godspell was a simple show, based on parables mostly taken from the Book of Matthew.

Clive Barnes of the New York Times found the show “naïve and platitudinous”, while Tony Mastroianni in the Cleveland Press had this to say:  “It is a very loving show and while it sometimes exhibits evangelist fervor it is never in anger. This is not a message of anger, but of love.”

Many will look at Godspell and agree with Mr. Barnes, asking why should we produce this musical now? Others, including director Robert Neu and composer Steven Schwartz, place the message of Godspell right here and right now. Schwartz put it this way: “there seems to be an increasing inability to come to any national consensus about anything. Godspell, at its heart, is about the formation of a community out of disparate people” through observance of some simple rules embodied in Biblical parables as seen through a very interesting lens…

While the individuals in the show are all given moments to shine, it is the ensemble that drives this production to excellence. Only one number, “Beautiful City” is a true solo, sung simply, effectively, and with minimal staging by Colin Hutchins (Jesus).

I don’t want to describe the show in a blow-by-blow manner, but rather give you a taste of what you would miss if you don’t see it. The fact is, this show is all about the team. I hope the cast will forgive me, but I feel to single out any of them would be to slight an excellent performance by each of the others. Believe, me there are no weak links to the chain here. Kudos, by the way, to Scenic Designer Kirby Moore, for not having that chain link fence.

First, it is obvious from the beginning that this cast loves working together. The interactions are honest and they play to each other and the audience with apparent ease.

Second, the staging is entertaining. Director Neu has found all of the humor he could to bring the parables to life and added some entertaining touches, such as in the baptism of the disciples. I was also pleasantly surprised by the use of footlights (yes, footlights), in “All for the Best”, a vaudeville number, led by Colin and Charles Goitia (John/Judas).

The other numbers, while having featured soloists, all are made much more effective by the ensemble, both physically and musically. Musical Director Mary Cay Stone and her assistant Ben Schrade have delivered a feast for the ears full of intricate harmonies and playful syncopations.

Choreographer Penelope Freeh and assistant Molly Jo Hall have sculpted a combination of production number dances and organic movement that complement the music seamlessly. A couple of numbers that stand out are the use of unexpected props in “We Beseech Thee” and the use of set pieces in “Bless the Lord”.

Which brings us to the set. When I entered the theatre, I was taken aback by the concrete-ness of the set. As admonished by director Neu in his program notes, I kept an open mind and was rewarded for doing so, as the set turned out to be extremely flexible and utilitarian in supporting the music and action. It helped make the technical elements of this show as seamlessly joined as the actors and musicians performing it.

So, is there a place for a 40 year old, counter culture musical telling a story more than 2,000 years old in today’s theatre? When it is done this well, the answer is a resounding yes.

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Gary Davis is a local actor/director who is a big fan of theater.