Saturday, November 12, 2011

Godspell @ The Circle in the Square Theater

Down the row of theatres on 50th and Broadway, Steven Schwartz is a very busy man.  It is not easy to have one dominating show on Broadway, Wicked, yet alone another one trying to make the same climb, Godspell.  Do not let the name of this rock musical fool you, the theme of religion runs through it; however, the ideas of life, love, and passion are at the very core of this piece.  An ensemble of ten performers creates an organic theatre experience that takes musical theatre to a whole new level.  Director Daniel Goldstein, has the audience become a part of what can only be described as a master acting and movement class with God as the teacher.  The ensemble gives an authentic and real performance – they simply have fun!  This is definitely one of the best revivals to hit Broadway this year – Godspell is simply irresistible.
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord” because a hip new prophet named Jesus is in town to share the word of his Father and save the people of Earth.  Step one: get baptized.  Step two: share the lessons that will save all of mankind – the parables of the Prodigal Son, Lazarus, the Good Samaritan, and more.  Step three: have one last supper.  Step four: be betrayed by one of your own, Judas.  Step five: die to save the entire world.  Step six: rock out while doing all of the previous five steps.  While it is true that the center of the story is Jesus and the Bible, there is so much more to this production.  The cast comes together to share their passion – performing.  The life and energy of this show is so authentic; the cast is clearly having a blast on the stage each night.  Godspell comes to Broadway with soulful performances, stunning imagery, and a message of hope!
In a piece that can tend to feel heavy and preachy, this cast of ten makes audiences believe in the power of theatre.  Hunter Parrish (Spring Awakening and television’s Weeds) as Jesus leads this troupe to the ways of the Lord with style, sexiness, and warmth.  His depiction of the Son of God might not be what typical Christians learned about in CCD, but it is sure as hell entertaining.   Parrish finds the humor and soul in the piece making the audience captivated by his charm and wit; however, he was also able to step away from that element to deliver a performance that is deeply emotional and moving.  Wallace Smith (American Idiot) as Judas with a whole new look is magnificent to watch.  Smith’s approach feels almost innocent – the audience sees it as if Judas’s actions were out of love not hate.  This made his character much more loveable and open to faith and friendship.  Surrounding these two is an ensemble of eight talented actors singing, dancing, and performing their asses off in order share their story.  Uzo Aduba (Coram Boy) owns the stage with her quick wit and soulful voice.  Nick Blaemire (Cry-Baby) takes the song “We Beseech Thee” to new heights.  Celisse Henderson (television’s 30 Rock) takes out all of the stops playing the bongos and ukulele while whaling and rapping.  Telly Leung (television’s Glee) imamates every famous movie and actor, all while playing piano.  Lindsay Mendez (Grease revival) takes on the gospel showstopper “Bless the Lord” and bring the house down.  George Salazar (Spring Awakening national tour) uses his strong comedic timing to bring each parable to life.  Anna Maria Perez de Tagle (film’s Fame remake) takes on the classic hit “Day by Day” and does a stunning job.  Understudy Julia Mattison, who has been in this role for a few weeks following a minor injury of original cast member Morgan James, uses a laid back approach that works wonders when see opens Act Two with “Turn Back, O Man.”  There are truly not enough positive things to be said about this company!
The John-Michael Tebelak and Steven Schwartz musical, which was originally written as a Master’s thesis, has landed back on Broadway under the direction of Daniel Goldstein (Mamma Mia! national tour resident director).  Goldstein has created organized chaos in the round at the Circle In The Square Theatre.  The piece is set up to feel like ten actors found a script of Godspell on the floor and decided to put all of their acting techniques to work.  It is truly a giant acting class complete with Pictionary, charades, and jokes on current events.  This master class takes place in a space that looks like a rundown vaudeville theatre thanks to designer David Korins (Lombardi in the same theatre).  With the band spread throughout the audience, trampolines, a mini-pool, and a piano built into the stage, this design is original and fresh – matching the feel of the show perfectly.  Flashy lighting, designed by David Weiner (The Normal Heart), that takes over each time a song breaks out truly adds to the rock n’ roll feel of the show.  And, pulling the whole look together, are smart costumes from designer Miranda Hoffman (Well).  The mix and match of the costumes brings that acting troupe feel together beautifully – especially when they physically throw away the traditional Superman tee-shirt!  The whole design just enhances the brilliance of this fresh concept!
It is time to learn your lessons well while preparing day by day in the beautiful city where this light of the world musical is playing.  Ignoring the phrase of puns, Godspell is an absolute delight!  It is hard to imagine another revival being any more brilliant than this one!  Schwartz defiantly has a reason to rejoice once more!

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