Directed by Tom Nichols
Living Word Church
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Ian Reed

It is remarkable that a church could produce a musical of Broadway dimensions and quality -- but to do so using only church members, and for a free ticket, was little short of miraculous.

Living Word Church (LWC)'s Godspell, directed by Assistant Pastor Tom Nichols, held close to the ``groovy Jesus'' style of the original 1971 production, with Nichols himself in the Messiah's role sporting a ``Superman'' T-shirt.

Yet the other nine members of this highly energetic and physical cast, clad in the resplendently garish and incongruous costumes designed by Kim Casper, Essie Ahima and Semoy Matthews, had their fair share of star turns too, enacting the parable stories with child-like liberty of expression and a wealth of characterizations and accents.

Among many memorable highlights was Sharon Arthur's nightclub singer in ``Turn Back, O Man,'' draping her boa over male audience members. And dancer/choreographer Leajato Amara Robinson was hilarious running on the spot as the wayward prodigal son.

Ronalda Nicholas-Frazier, unconsciously sexy even in her tattered costume, took a step up Jacob's ladder singing the famous 12th-century prayer, ``Day by Day''; the dandified Marcus Moss was playfully sophisticated as John the Baptist/Judas until his tormented betrayal of his Lord; Katrina Epps and Julie Gore brought an angelic serenity to their duet ``By My Side''; Peter Kennedy shrivelled as the piteous seed that fell on rocky soil, then towered comically over the diminutive but big-hearted Ramon Torres; and Sharon Butler showed a four-year-old's exuberance throughout.

While Godspell is an actor's dream in giving everyone plenty to do, the director's job involves keeping the ensemble on stage throughout, supportive of the solo work or scenes without distracting -- a feat Nichols pulled off to spectacu-lar effect.

Virtuoso keyboard player Keith Albright led the musical direction, with percussionist Aaron Simura supplying an array of sound effects, and Mario Ruiz producing a suitably tortured wailing on electric guitar in accompaniment to the tear-jerking crucifixion.

The quibbles are few: Nichols's retention in the score of Jesus's final words, ``O God, I'm Dead,'' the meaning of which has become considerably trivialized since 1971, evoked some audience giggles; Moss could have used more volume singing when not amplified directly; Arthur needed a slightly higher key for ``Turn Back, O Man''; and the closing evangelistic message seemed superfluous.

Godspell's early scenes also focus excessively on those teachings which prompted the disciples to question whether any man could be saved (Mark 10:26). But Godspell never directly provides the answer: ``All things are possible with God'' (Mark 10:27).

LWC's production nevertheless underlined the timeless appeal of this journey through man's spiritual foundation and warrants a longer-running revival.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 2
Acting 2
Music 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 Ian Reed
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