Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Godspell"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Godspell"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Company Theatre's current show is "Godspell" with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by John-Michael Tebelak, originally opened Off-Broadway on May 17,1971. It is a loose account of the life and death of Christ and is structured as a continuous stream of stories and told through the parables, many taken from the Gospel According to St. Matthew. The show lives on in the minds of many as one of the "hippie" musicals and is performed in two acts. Also "Godspell" is the Old English spelling of the word, gospel. The book of "Godspell" is sketch-like in nature, meaning that the show is particularly suited to improvisation and ad-libs. Keeping Tebelak's basic structure but updating the pop references and language, the show comes humanly and heartenly alive in a groundbreaking and unique new production. This joyous contemporary piece of musical theatre will be a passionate new reflection on the parables of Jesus, told with vibrant creativity by a large ensemble.The show is global in nature where Jesus tells the crowds his message in around the world theme. It depends a lot on the chemistry of the characters, in constant unflagging, inspired movement. Godspell's timeless message has always been about finding your quiet, unshakable faith amid a very loud, very cold, very shallow modern world. An overhaul in this updated in the heavily revised script. their inventive twists will delight those overly familiar with the show. Now they are related in broadly satirical skits that skewer social icons. Poignant and comic moments are mixed together perfectly by directors Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman. They assemble a talented 32 member cast to fit all these roles while musical director Michael Joseph not only taught the different style of songs to his cast but also plays lead keyboard while he conducts a small combo, Sally Ashton Forrest not only taught the dances including soft shoe routine, tap and jazz but has all 32 cast members doing the routines in perfect unison. The harmonic blend of the cast is fabulous and fills the whole theatre with its power.The show is a trip around the world to various places like Italy, Ireland, India and Africa to name a few.The heartfelt songs demand topnotch vocalists and this show is bountiful with them. The different styles of music include rock, folk, pop and Broadway. The vocals have to be combined with the acting ability and vitality needed to enliven the biblical subject matter. The show is usually performed with 10 people but this creation delivers the goods on a grand scale level which the audiences of Company Theatre have grown used to. Their epic presentations reach audiences of all ages and this show is rewarded with a spontaneous standing ovation at the close of the evening.

Zoe's concept for the set is a two story structure with stairways on each side which cast members easily ascend and descend. A pathway from side to side on the second level with beautiful stone structure design. The cross is built with pieces of the set and is pieced together so skillfully, so well hidden that when they assemble it, it will astound you. Marc Ewart who is also the stage manager and in the show constructed the impressive set. He gets to show off his lariat trick from "Will Rogers Follies" in the Noah and the Ark sequence and is the evil servant who is forgiven of his debt by his master but he refuses to forgive his servants debt and is severely punished for it. The lighting affects in this show are astounding, making the Crucifixion scene terrifying while the Resurrection scene is electrifying. The lighting by Michael Clark Wonson is as excellent as Broadway.The lightening that opens the show with smoke and fog helps set up the mysterious nature of the show. As the characters enter from all parts of the theater whether thru the audience or onstage, Michael keeps them well lit at all times. The massive amount of costumes are by Shirley Carney.Not having a Jesus until two weeks ago, didn't stop Zoe and Jordie from rehearsing the show with the other performers. Searching high and low they finally found the perfect fit for the role. Scoop Slone, an equity actor from New York, stars as Jesus and he is excellently cast in this role with dark brown hair, blue eyes and an angelic face with a rock singers vocal range. Clad in white and with a spot on him at all times since he is the central figure in this tale. Scoop has performed in productions ranging from opera to heavy metal and now the pop influenced "Godspell". One of his most powerful numbers is "Alas for You" where the words "This nation, this generation shall bear the guilt of it all! Alas, alas alas for you! Blind fools!!" which rings true for the world today as well as back in biblical times and in the 1970's when the show was first written. His charisma shines through from the first moment he appears onstage as well as in his first dynamite song "Save the People" where the cast does a circular dance around him. The Last Supper tableau and the death scene are beautifully portrayed not leaving a dry eye in the house, including mine. The directors have divided the role of John the Baptist and Judas which helps the audience understand who is who more easily. Alex Valentine who has a powerful gospel sounding voice, enters the theatre thru the audience, making them pay attention to "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" and other solos throughout the show. He shows his wonderful acting in the parables, too. Jim Sullivan is dynamite as Judas. He is a topnotch director having reviewed "The Music Man" which he directed in 2007 but he shows off his acting prowess in this show. The comic duet "All For the Best" stops the show with Scoop and Jim dancing and singing with the cast in counterpoint on opposite sides of the stage. They also do two separate dances including a soft shoe routine and a jazz style for Jim's group. The betrayal scene is stunning too as Jim runs up the stairs of the audience in the darkness. He also plays the unjust judge and the rich man who is condemned to the fires of hell.

Since the cast is enormous, I will try to hit on a few of the shows many highlights. Paula Markowicz opens the show as Socrates with her powerful soprano voice singing "O Man of Athens, sings a verse of "Light of the World" and is the devil throwing Jesus into a pit of vipers right before Scoop sings "Alas For You". John Porcaro and the men's chorus send chills up your spine with the "On the Willows" song where Jesus is crucified. The powerful "Long Live God" and "Prepare Ye" done in counterpoint portrays the joyousness of the Resurrection scene perfectly. Bethany Boles plays Sartre in the Prologue where she sings his atheistic dogma and does imitations of Janis Joplin in Act 1 and Cher in Act 2 while she wonderfully sings "Learn Your Lessons Well". She also plays the ukulele in "All for the Best". Sara Seals belts out the "O Bless the Lord" with a her powerful. Amazing thing is she just returned to the show after being in a terrific car crash where she broke her pelvis. Matt Melo uses his tenor voice in "All Good Gifts" and plays the father in the prodigal son scene. The prodigal son takes place in the tundra in Alaska so there is a very hilarious joke about Sarah Palin in it where the character states she can see Russia from here. "Day by Day" is sung beautifully by Melissa Sepulveda who returns to the stage in triumph after a five year hiatus. Her bluesy style of singing carries this well known song across the footlights enthralling the audience with its powerful message once again. Karen Cavallo as Mary Magdalene descends the long stairs thru the audience to flirt with them and Michael Joseph is one of her foils in the "Turn Back O Man" song. (Scoop uses his high tenor range in his verse of the song.) She plays many diverse characters including Maria in "The Sound of Music". She goes from nun to vamp in this show. 18 year old Michael Iemma who I reviewed as the lead in "Bat Boy" last year and who recently played one of the Chinamen in "Thoroughly Modern Millie", appears as Marianne Willliamson in the Prologue but also shows off his strong singing voice in "We Beseech Thee" with the chorus dancing in four columns. James Valentin plays L. Ron Hubbard in the opening (Hubbard founded Scientology), does the Irish segment about the scattering of the seeds, dances up a storm, walks on stilts in another sketch and plays the snooty Pharisee. Another tender song is the ballad "By My Side" performed by Jill Akins and Caitlin Ford as a duet first then as a choral selection later in the song. Jill appears in the scene of the woman being accused of being an adulterer right before this song. (She was one of the 16 finalists in Popsearch in 2007) The most important lesson is "Love the Lord your God above all others" which is the greatest commandment and the second is Love your neighbor". The outstanding production displays the great love the cast has for each other and their powerhouse performances knock your socks off and with their awesome talent should fill the theatre every night. The show's ending will leave you emotionally drained at its intensity but uplifted because Jesus left us hope for the future. In these trying times who could ask for anything better for the world. Kudos to everyone who make this the sensational show that it is. So for a trip back to an old favorite with a new twist to it, be sure to catch "Godspell" at Company Theatre.

"Godspell" (20 March - 11 April)
THE COMPANY THEATRE
30 Accord Park Drive, NORWELL MA
1(781) 871-2797

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