Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Originally Conceived by John Michael Tebelak
Directed by Christopher Presley
St. Bart's Players
St. Bartholomew's Church
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by David Mackler
Godspell is a show that is so emblematic of the time and place it was first produced that any revival carries a burden - while it celebrates the Gospel according to St. Matthew, it also resuscitates the "now" and "with it" theatre of the 1970s. Thankfully, Godspell has a score by Stephen Schwartz (adapted from various verses, hymns, and psalms) that can be enjoyed and appreciated whatever one's religious affiliation or beliefs (just try to get "Day by Day" out of your head once you hear the first few bars). The St. Bart's Players' production (directed by Christopher Presley) was performed not in their regular theatre space but in the church itself, a concept that was better in concept than execution.
That is because in the cavernous church most sound was completely lost. The actors wore body mikes, and the speakers, which might suffice for broadcasting a sermon to a congregation, only succeeded in completely separating actors from their voices. Audience attention was diverted because of the need to match the voice heard to the lip movements of a performer. And while most of the cast had strong voices, some of them were pretty much lost in the muddle of bad amplification.
Allison Harvey, Melissa Broder, and RoseMarie Guaglieri had voices that were able to triumph over the bad miking, Scott Kerstetter and Brad Negbaur did not. What might have been (in other circumstances) was indicated by "All for the Best," a terrific patter/counterpoint song that was performed by two strong actor/singers, Courtney Leigh Stanford and David Pasteelnick, yet it was still undermined by the lousy sound and mike noise and feedback.
Lighting (designed by Douglas Cox) ranged from some very good effects (the use of silhouette for the Good Samaritan story; a terrific red-lit crucifixion tableau) to ineffectual (the flashlights in the opening number were more confusing than illuminating). Although actors were placed all over the church, the church itself was well used only for the crucifixion - otherwise it could have been any auditorium with bad sight lines (much of Elizabeth Gravitt's choreography was lost if there was someone seated in front of you). Costumes tended toward overkill - for the opening the cast wore overcoats festooned with names of philosophers through the ages (Nietzsche, Aquinas, Socrates) and Greek drama masks that were discarded to reveal the more usual rag-tag wear when Pasteelnick delivered the clarion call "Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord." (His voice was so clear and true it practically needed no amplification at all.)
St. Bart's also proudly announced that this was a non-traditional Godspell with the leading role of Jesus played by a woman (Stanford). She was a strong singer and an exuberant performer, but it always seemed like she was speaking about someone else, until she joyously proclaimed that the redeemer comes "when you least expect her!" Now that was provocative, but otherwise it was as innocuous as a woman playing Peter Pan.
But a line like "Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors" has a jarring resonance that highlights the true message of Godspell. And when it could be heard (literally and figuratively), there was food for thought.
Also with Nina Kelley, Ward Loving, Marc Strauss. Musical Director was Nathan R. Matthews.
Lighting: 1/Sound: 0
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Copyright 2001 David Mackler