To see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly, to follow thee more nearly, day by day. These three things I pray, and you will find them all at the Pasadena Theatre Company’s production of Godspell. Reimagined, reinvented, and completely remarkable the performance, which is Directed by Chuck Dick and Musically Directed by Kim Murray,is opening the eyes of theatergoers everywhere. Proving that small community theatres can do exceptional work that really motivates people to feel honest emotions while still enjoying tried-and-true musicals, PTC moves its audience with this production of a Stephen Schwartz classic.
The concept at first seems outrageous: Godspell set under the big top. But under the skilled direction of Director Chuck Dick a team of creative designers pull out all the stops and give full-blown razzle-dazzle realness that matches the level of impressive talent featured throughout the production. With a mesmerizing backdrop that illuminates a large circus show and Dick’s lighting design at poignant moments, the show brings an incredible amount of spectacle to the very basic notion of a bible musical. Reinvigorating the parables of the gospel as told by Matthew in this fashion makes them more accessible and relatable to modern audiences who are seeking a bit more of the sensationalism in today’s musicals.
It really comes down to Costume Designers Christy Stouffer and Lori Chapman in regards to completing the carnivalesque style. With multi-colored dresses, rainbow pants, and other accoutrements that are most befitting of clown-like attire, Stouffer and Chapman bring the focus into the clowns— a symbolic representation that all people are fools until the understand the parables— making their outfits pop the way the stories do in this production.
Director Chuck Dick brings a heightened level of camp to the performance, infusing hilarious moments throughout the evening that keeps the audience on their toes. Godspell is designed to have a modern feel to it— even if it’s original production was decades ago. Dick’s work includes modern and pop cultural references as well as local bits of recognizable habits and shameless plugs of the PTC and their upcoming show; all of which add a healthy dose of colloquial flavor to the show. But don’t be fooled by the high end comedy; shtick and shenanigans are not the only thing that Dick manages to bring the cast. His approach to the crucial pivoting point of the plot is flawless; smacking the audience from hilarious comedy to serious drama in an instant. And his execution of the final two scenes is so intense that a well deserved standing ovation greets the players at the curtain call.
The talent featured into the production is as limitless as the jokes are hilarious. From the little moments where the ensemble members becomes props and furniture to the truly sensational voices featured throughout, these extremely talented performers deliver a show that is well worth seeing, even if you’ve seen this show before. As an ensemble numbers like “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” becomes an energetic blast of amalgamated faith and fun, blending religion and circuslike flare into the perfect hybrid singing sound. “Day By Day” and the “Finale” also feature striking harmonious blends of the entire company.
Featured soloists populate the production but the true voice worthy of heavenly praise comes from John Scheeler. A vibrant baritone with phenomenal sustain and clarity to his voice, Scheeler arrives on the scene as a hidden comic gem. At first he is noticed for his melodramatic theatrics— particularly during the death scene that he executes, at least thrice in finality— but is later received as a stunning and particularly entrancing voice. His solo “All Good Gifts” is a shocking blast of powerful and gorgeous sound. The same can be said of soloist Lorelei Chapman, another voice among the ensemble who soars surprisingly above expectations during “Finale.” Both of these voices add to the sensational ensemble featured in this production.
Julia Salatti, Christy Stouffer, and Sandra Rardon bring big sounds into the mix as well. For Salatti, her featured solo during “O Bless the Lord” is an enormous belting sound that really drives that number to success. Stouffer gets the distinguished pleasure of working the crowd during “Turn Back, O Man,” and truly lays on her seductive charm with the most unnatural of eases. Rardon brings the beauty and splendor of “Day By Day” that to that number with her well-versed voice.
It’s the role of John the Baptist that stands out at times. Frank Antonio, who doubles as Judas the betrayer, is quite the talent. While his singing voice may not be the strongest, what he lacks in vocal strength he more than compensates for in physical integrity and overall character development. His acting skills are astounding; the utter agony seizing his entire body at the finale creates creating an overwhelming rendition that stuns and moves you to tears. Antonio’s perfect juxtaposition of the serious roles and the wild and crazy John the Baptist against Judas are miraculous.
As for Jesus (Brian Mellen) there is an unspoken brilliance in his portrayal of the great teacher. Appearing on the scene in his Superman shirt, rainbow pants, and bright glowing painted face, Mellen treats the character with an edgy warmth; a bit like a sassy camp councilor trying to teach bored students to do purposeful arts and crafts with their time. His stage presence is the guiding focus for this role and his voice works as in assortment of styles throughout. Mellen’s finale “Oh God, I’m Bleeding” is harrowing; an exposure of raw agony and woe, while is “Alas, Alas!” is filled with temper and passion.
This production has power, punch, and practical perfection that really intrigues the audience to everything that a little theatre can do with the right motivation and the right musical.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission
Godspell plays through August 24, 2014 at the Pasadena Theatre Company at Anne Arundel Community College in the Humanities Recital Hall— 101 College Parkway in Arnold, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or in advance online, but reservations are strongly recommended.