Last night, I attended “Godspell” on its second week presented by the A.D. Players at Grace Theater. Artistic director Jeannette Clift George provided a wonderful, heartfelt welcome before the production started.
“Godspell” has a long rich history beginning its Off Broadway run in 1971. John-Michael Tebelak originally conceived and directed the musical. Stephen Schwartz, an accomplished and celebrated composer and lyrist known for “Pippin” (1972) and “Wicked” (2003), wrote the music and lyrics. Director Kevin Dean brought “Godspell” alive for the AD Players with a talented cast and amazing crew. Costume design by Donna Southern Schmidt provided a blast back to the past with color and psychedelic attire. The simple and easily mobile set design by Robin Gillock provided the ideal setting for the overall feel of the production.
“Godspell” tells a rather free and unconventional telling of the Gospel of Matthew. Audiences are first introduced to the company of the production, who are followers of Christ, yet throughout the production, each cast member takes on various roles. John the Baptist (Braden Hunt) burst into the theater singing “Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord)” in reverent yet lively fashion. Jesus Christ (Joey Watkins) with the company sings “Save the People” as the story takes a familiar yet overly simplified tone.
The overall tone and feel of the musical seems to be comical rather than joyous, heartfelt sincerity for the material. As Jesus and his followers sing and dance around stage in a “Glee” like fashion, the message in the story seems to fall to the side as well. When Stephanie Hurst, who has a rich, powerful voice, sings “Learn Your Lessons Well” the message seems to disappear in all the lights and bright colors.
The musical covers the parables and leads up to the ultimate betrayal and crucifixion of Christ. Each cast member lends their voice well, really standing tall during each solo. Beth Lazarou is a ball of energy and fun with her dynamic upper register, which is highlighted in the song “O Bless the Lord My Soul”. Katie Fridsma and Stephanie Bradow both have smooth pure voices mixed with their fun personalities. Leslie Lenert and Jennifer Gilbert round out the female cast both have amazing stage presence.
The male cast members shine in this musical as well with their powerful and show stopping voices. Watkins has big shoes to fill, so to speak, yet fills the stage with a jovial passion and equally pure vocals. Hunt has a deep, rich, smooth voice that shines and amazes on stage and he steals the show a few times, as he opens the show playing John the Baptist and ends as Judas. Hunt portrays both John and Judas in contrasting light, the devout believer to Jesus’ ultimate betrayer. Chris Pool has a dynamic and out of this world, tone and ease in his voice, which is, highlighted in the song “All Good Gifts”. Daniel Miller and Stephen Hurst rounds out the strong and dynamic male cast, who both offer joyous personalities on stage mixed with their even vocals.
This musical shows its age with the dated costumes and makeup, which feels fitting knowing when it was originally conceived, yet the modern references fill a bit out of place. Overall, the musical offers a fun, toe tapping night of theater yet lacks the serenity one might expect. The cast provides angelic vocal performances that will amaze and delight. As a musical filled with great vocal performances, this more than delivers, but look much deeper and one might be quite disappointed.
“Godspell” plays now until August 24 at A.D. Players at Grace Theater. For ticket information, visit their site at www.adplayers.org, call 713-526-2721 or you can purchase at the door. Tickets are going fast so get them while you can. Check out the other events going on this summer at the theater and see what shows are up ahead for both the Main stage and Children’s theater for the 2014-2015 season.