note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone
The Renaissance City Theatre Inc.,the producing entity at the Granite Theatre's fall show is "Godspell''. The show has music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwatz and book by John-Michael Tebelak. It originally opened Off-Broadway on May 17, 1971. It is the loose account of the life and death of Christ and is structured as a continuous stream of stories, told through parables, many taken from the Gospel According to St. Matthew and St. Luke. The show lives on in the minds of many as one of the "hippie" musicals and is performed in two acts. The show is sketch-like in nature and is particularly suited to improvisation and ad-libs. Keeping the basic structure of the show but updating the pop references and language, the show comes alive in a new production. "Godspell's timeless message has always been about finding your quiet, unshakable faith amid a very loud, very cold, very shallow modern world. The poignant and comic moments are mixed together perfectly by Michael Farrelly. He assembles a topnotch 10 member cast to fit all these roles while musical director Stephen DeCesare not only taught the different style songs to the cast but only plays lead keyboard while he conducts a three piece orchestra. Choreographer Lisa Clough not only taught the dances including soft shoe, tango, Charleston, kickline and jazz but has the cast executing her steps marvelously. Their combined expertise is rewarded with a spontaneous standing ovation at the close of the show.
The subway set is by David Jepson and the colorful costumes are by cast. Barbara Collins is the hard working stage manager while Brian Olsen runs the lights and sound. Michael always brings out the best in his cast and this show in no exception. It is proof that he is one of the foremost directors around. The show includes many theatrical traditions such as clowning, pantomime, charades, acrobatics and vaudeville. Edward Benjamin III is excellent as Jesus. He displays his strong baritone voice in this role and gives an emotion packed portrayal of Jesus. Clad in a Superman shirt, one of his best numbers is "Alas For You". These words "This nation, this generation shall bear the guilt of it all! Alas, alas, alas for you! Blind fools!", still ring true today as they did back in biblical times and in the 1970's when the show first was written. Ed's first number is "Save the People" where the cast dances around him. The Last Supper tableau with "On the Willows" and the death scene rip your heart out, leaving you in tears. There wasn't a dry eye in the house including mine. The opening Philosophers section has gorgeous harmonies in it. It is excellently performed with the cast singing their individual parts and then together in harmony. Stephen did a topnotch job on this and other harmonies in the show.
Michael gives all his performers their moments to shine in the show and makes this an ensemble show to be very proud of. The first act is vaudevillian while the second act becomes more somber after "Turn Back O Man". Mark Foster as John the Baptist sings "Prepare Ye" with his powerful gospel voice as he enters through the audience. He later becomes Judas as he and Ed stop the show with "All For the Best" done in counterpoint while the cast dances around them. It is a soft shoe and Charleston. "Day by Day" is given a lovely rendition by Taryn Mallard-Reid with her powerful voice where the disciples learn to share with each other. She later plays guitar and sings harmony in a dynamic duet with Diane Foster on "By My Side" which tugs at your heartstrings. A fantastic group dance occurs during "Bless the Lord" by Kaitie Hartman who is a gorgeous blonde with a powerful soprano voice. A rousing number is "We Beseech Thee" with a dynamite dance and lead vocals by Nicholas Mikkelsen. The betrayal scene is stunning and very emotion packed.
Danielle Conti, a petite brunette sings Learn Your Lessons Well. Kevin Ladd's strong voice is heard in "All Good Gifts" while Chris Maxwell sings "Light of the World'' to end Act 1. Everyone has some shtick to do in the show and one of the funniest was Kevin imitating Marlon Brando in "The Prodigal Son" parable as well as some funny references about the ACI and the $22 tickets. Kaitie had a lot of funny one liners in the show. My favorite song in the show is "Turn Back O Man" sung by Lisa Clough who interacts with the men in the audience, flirting with them. She is hilarious as are the other performers with their many ad libs. "On the Willows" is a tear jerker number done during The Last Supper by the band while Jesus says goodbye to his disciples. "Long Live God" and "Prepare Ye" done in counterpoint is extremely poignant after Jesus is crucified. The show's ending will leave you emotionally drained at its intensity but uplifted because Jesus left hope for the future. In these trying times who could ask for anything better for the world. So for a splendid production of "Godspell" be sure to catch it at Granite Theatre.