Music & Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Book by John-Michael Tebelak
Directed by Phill Greenland
New York Youth Theater (242-2822)
593 Park Ave. (closes March 27)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

It would be too easy to start a review of Godspell-a musical about Jesus Christ-with some pun about how it has resurrected the New York Youth Theater, which halted operations last season when it ran out of money. Nah, too easy.

So let's just focus on the colorful, enthusiastic fashion in which the New York Youth Theater delivered this musicalization of the Gospel According to St. Matthew. There was passion in the performances beyond the characters' "motivations"-it may come from the longstanding friendships among cast members or from their rejoicing over their troupe's rebirth (which occurred thanks to a grant from Heller Financial). And this is the ideal show to "let your light so shine," as one lyric says. With that extra jolt of energy, the cast practiced what it preached: "Be good and be happy"-a flower-child interpretation of the Bible that one might say is the message of Godspell.

For all the hippie-like attire of its cast and the rock beat of its score, Godspell is faithful to its source: the first, oft-quoted book of the New Testament. Between musical numbers the performers enacted Jesus' parables, and every song is a celebration of faith and repentance. The underappreciated score includes "Learn Your Lessons Well," "All for the Best," "Light of the World," and "We Beseech Thee" as well as the popular "Day by Day."

Godspell is the one New York Youth Theater production this year with a cast of adults. The performers in NYYT shows are usually under the age of 18, but here the kids were running the lights, sound, and box office, stage-managing and helping to design sound and lights. The only glitch in their work was overamplification of the music in the first act (it all but drowned out the opening narration). The technical and design elements of Godspell were, in fact, good enough to surmount the NYYT's biggest handicap: lack of a real theatre. The company put up a small stage and five rows of folding chairs in one corner of a church hall. The space wouldn't make much difference in a show where the action is confined to the stage, but the performers in Godspell occasionally traipsed through the aisles and interacted with the audience. The NYYT cast had no problems using their makeshift space favorably. The construction-site set and thrift-shop costumes were just right, too. They presumably were the idea of director Phill Greenland, who was credited with designing the show and who alsowas in the cast. The women in the cast (especially Sharon Quinn, Florence Barrau, and Wendy Popeck) generally outperformed the men, although Johnny Blaze Leavitt made a fine Jesus-self-righteous and didactic yet gentle and sympathetic. (Also featuring Marc Morales, Natalie Deen, Lawrence Axmith, and Lorraine Stobbe.)
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Adrienne Onofri