Rhode Island College Theatre's closing show of this season is "Godspell" with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz 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 from the Gospel According to St. Matthew. This show lives on in the minds of many as one of the "hippie" musicals, is performed in two acts and also "Godspell'' is the Old English spelling for gospel. The show is sketch-like in nature and is particularly suited to improvisation and ad-libs. It also draws on various theatrical traditions, such as clowning, pantomime, charades, acrobatics and vaudeville. Keeping Tebelak's basic structure but updating the pop references and language, the show becomes humanly alive in a new production. "Godspell's" timeless message has always been about finding your quiet, unshakable faith amid a very loud, very cold shallow modern world to display Jesus' message of kindness, love and tolerance. The poignant and comic moments are blended together excellently by director Bill Wilson. He assembles a 25 member cast to fit all this roles while musical director, Anthony Torelli taught the many varieties of songs to them and conducts an excellent six piece orchestra. Angelica Vessella not only taught the dances including modern, Fosse style and jazz to mention a few, but has the cast doing them in perfect unison. Her astounding choreography appears in almost every number in this show. This heartwarming production is rewarded with a spontaneous standing ovation at the close of the evening.
Bill gives all his performers their moments to shine in this show. He has them entering and exiting up the aisles during Act 1 and they exit with Jesus' body near the end of Act 2. The opening Philosophers section has gorgeous harmonies in it where they first sing their parts individually and the harmonic blend occurs later in this section. The voices of this cast are marvelous as are their dancing prowess. Neil Jeronimo leads the cast as Jesus and is excellently cast in this role, capturing the humor and pathos beautifully. He delivers his many lines with finesse and his charisma shines through from his first moment on stage. Clad in a white pants and T-shirt while the rest of the cast is in black, one of Jesus' most powerful numbers is "Alas for You" with the words "This nation, this generation shall bear the guilt of it all! Alas, alas, alas for you! Blind fools!!" when he chastises the sinners. This statement rings true for the world today as it did back in biblical times as well as it did in the 1970's when this musical was first written. Neil's first number is "Save the People" which soars off the charts and the cast does a fantastic dance during it. The Last Supper tableau and the death scene are wonderfully rendered not leaving a dry eye in the house including mine. A new song written for this updated version is "Beautiful City" which is a poignant number rendered marvelously by Neil. Neil and Joe DeLeo also do a splendid job on the comic duet "All for the Best" where they sing and dance up a storm. Neil is a graduating senior and excels in comic, dramatic and musicals so he has a bright future in show business ahead of him.
The first act is more comic while the second act turns more somber after "Turn Back O Man." Joe Deleo as John the Baptist opens the show with "Prepare Ye" with his powerful gospel voice. Later on in the show he becomes Judas, making the transition from one character to the other with ease. Joe and Neil stop the show with their rendition of "All For the Best" sung in counterpoint as they and the whole cast perform to it. The betrayal scene is an outstanding dramatic moment in the show with Joe and Neil's acting talents shining through. Other cast members shine in their numbers, too. "Day by Day'' is given a lovely rendition by Jen Pierel as the apostles learn how to share with each other. plays Socrates and sing "O Man of Athens." A group dance occurs as the lovely Katie Miller sings "Bless the Lord" with her fabulous voice. I first reviewed Katie as a ten year old playing Jo Jo in "Seussical." A rousing number is "We Beseech Thee" with a dynamite dance with lead vocals by Joseph Sherry. "By My Side" is a poignant number by Helena Tafari while Mary Arnold belts out "Learn Your Lessons Well" with her powerful scat singing voice. She stops the show with this song.
Joe DeLeo sings the tear jerking "On the Willows" during the Last Supper as Jesus says goodbye to each one of his disciples. My favorite comic song is "Turn Back O Man" and in this show it stops the show with the brilliant rendition by Stephanie Barney. She enters through the audience interacting with the crowd. Neil displays his voice in this number, too. Stephanie is hilarious as is Ian Doran with his many clever ad libs and he also sings "You Are the Light of the World" to close Act 1. Taylor Santoro 's voice soars off the charts in "All Good Gifts." The whole cast sings "Long Live God" and "Prepare Ye" in counterpoint to close the show. Anthony obtains superior harmonic balance with these talented vocalists. The cast also sings "Beautiful City" after the death of Jesus. The show is extremely poignant as Jesus is crucified. The ending will leave you emotionally drained at its intensity but uplifted because Jesus left us hope for the future. In these trying and tumultuous times who could ask for anything better for the world. So for a splendid production of "Godspell", be sure to catch Rhode Island College's version before time runs out.