Day By Day
Godspell entertains, with some fine singing performances, at the Wharf Theater.
Thursday, December 23, 1999
Godspell, written by John Michael Tebelak and first produced at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1971, consists of a string of stories and parables ostensibly based on the Gospel of St. Mathew. (There''s a lot from St. Luke, as well.) It debuted a few months before Jesus Christ Superstar--1971 was a big year for the New Testament on Broadway--and much like its more famous musical counterpart, attempts to articulate a relevant commentary on a story that seems far removed from the moral ambiguity of late 20th-century American life. This current production, directed by Gina Welch-Hagen and playing at The Bruce Ariss Wharf Theater through Jan. 2, is an uneven but energetic and, when all''s said and done, entertaining show.
Far from being depressing or preachy, Godspell is often funny (without being irreverent) and thought-provoking
The play opens with a motley group of people entering a courtyard surrounded by ramshackle buildings (a versatile set designed by Lisa Cappuccio-Haas). The ball gets rolling when the characters exchange philosophical and religious quotations that ultimately coalesce into a singular quotation from John the Baptist, which becomes the song, "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord." The trajectory of the play then becomes apparent, as it moves through the teachings of Christ and, in the second act, the last few days of his life.
Far from being depressing or preachy, Godspell is often funny (without being irreverent) and sometimes thought-provoking. Granted, we are sometimes seeing the Scriptures made "hip and happening," ''60s style, but there is an earnestness about the script and the music that is engaging. Also, Welch-Hagen liberally sprinkles items of local and current interest into the skits and thus avoids that dated feel some older musicals have.
Fortunately, this production is blessed with a number of fine voices. Jay Williams sings a lovely rendition of "All Good Gifts," and has a nice centered presence on stage. Betsy Andrade exudes an effervescence that seems to inspire the rest of the ensemble, and she proves with her solo, "Learn Your Lessons Well," that she can sell a song. I have seen John Daniels in a number of shows, and am always impressed with his performances. This show is no exception. He has a good voice and he uses it to advantage. He also has a versatile stage presence that serves him well.
Katharine Andrade is a real standout. Not only can she sing, dance, and act with the best of the cast but she can do this at the age of nine. She is a very natural performer and avoids that stagey, precocious quality so many child actors acquire. Deborah Govier really steals the show, though. She plays everything from frump to sexpot and is hysterical throughout. Her face, especially her eyes, are extraordinarily expressive, often to comic effect. Add to this a wonderful singing voice and you''ve got a delightful performer in a delightful performance.
Matt Gober as Jesus is physically graceful and flexible but lacks the emotional intensity required for the role. We need to see a less cool Jesus, a more compassionate one, in order for the betrayal scene and subsequent crucifixion to deliver the emotional impact intended. Also, I would have liked to see some members of the ensemble more engaged in the show--even if an actor isn''t immediately involved in the action, he or she still has some kind of relationship to what is happening on stage. The show continues even after the song has been sung.
One notable exception to this was Tara Lucido whom I rarely caught napping. In other words, she was paying attention to what was happening on stage and had an attitude that she communicated to us in the audience. Particuarly in community theater, where the focus so often is on getting good actors for your leads, it is the ensemble that can make or break a show.
In closing, I want to acknowledge Heidi Toy, the music director, and her musicians. In a show that is mainly music, it is no easy task to make a piano, drum, and occasional guitar take the place of a full orchestra. But that is exactly what these musicians accomplish-- the show does not suffer for the lack of strings or brass. Well done.