Tuesday, September 1, 2015

WOBT: "Godspell"

Rarely off the boards at schools and community theatres since its 1971 Off-Broadway premiere, the John-Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz musical Godspell is being given a three-weekend run at Prattville's Way Off Broadway Theatre.

Directed by Jason Morgan, with an eleven-member cast of veterans and newcomers, the revised in 2012 version's earnestness in its many teaching moments drawn mostly from St. Matthew's Gospel give audiences ample opportunities to reflect on personal beliefs and behaviors as well as to study the avowed Christian stances taken by many of 2015's public officials.

The litany of over a dozen parable messages -- "those who are humbled shall be exalted", "turn the other cheek", "walk in someone else's shoes", "one can't be a servant to two masters", "let him who is without sin cast the first stone", et al. -- are told in a variety of musical styles as Jesus [Hunter Lee Smith] conscripts his Apostles, a rag-tag bunch who, on opening night, exhibited some individual strengths in characterization [Paul Neace in the double role of John the Baptist and Judas], singing [Jailyn Ausborn and Alicia Ruth Jackson], tap dance [Daniel Harms], mime [Merelee Robinson], and stage presence [D'Andre Massey], but who [with Lucie Chesser, Olivia Johnston, Danielle Phillips, and Jillian Rabb] never quite congeal into a unified ensemble.

Perhaps because much of the movement was so very casual, and a lot of the dialogue spoken so softly as to throw away important contemporary popular culture references and ideas, the sporadic energetic moments better demonstrated a discipline that made them memorable. -- In addition, several scenes were staged in dark areas of the theatre, so the actors could not be seen clearly.

Godspell has survived for over forty years in great part due to its timeless themes and messages that bear repeating today. Songs like "Prepare Ye" and "Day by Day" have a permanent place in the canon of musical theatre. Hopefully, the next two weekends' performances will achieve the solidity the play deserves.