When your trust is all but shattered, when your faith is all but killed— because every company and their brother all across the state of Maryland seem to be turning out productions of Stephen Schwartz’ pre-Wicked musical wonder, fear not! And prepare ye the way of Chuck Dick, who— like Lazarus— has risen with strength and fortitude to set Pasadena Theatre Company back on its feet! And what better way to do it than with an iconic and textbook production of Godspell? Directed by Chuck Dick, with Musical Direction by Tom Jackson, these ten performers put the old-school ways with new-age modernity into the parables of Jesus and keep the audience singing and clapping along through the whole shebang.
Let’s pluck out the sawdust first so that it’s out of the way; the only major issue that the production contends with is sound balance. Musical Director Tom Jackson, who plays in the four-person pit, does his best to keep the open-air orchestra as balanced as possible against the non-mic’d singers, but there are times when their instrumental surges simply overpower certain soloists (mainly just Jesus, who ironically enough is the only soloist to never have a hand-mic when taking to one of his solos.) This is only problematic in spots here and there, and is ultimately forgivable as the ensemble sound is so strong and teaming with vibrant energy. A nod of praise should also be given to Tom Delaney, on guitar in the pit, as he sings— and quite serenely— “On the Willows” as the end of the play draws near.
Taking the show’s aesthetic back to its original cobbled-together concept, Chuck Dick uses basic wooden fences sprayed up with graffiti tags to set the stage. Herein begins the nods of homage to other musicals from the world of the stage. “Rizzo was here” is the blindingly obvious one, sprayed in two different locations across the fence. Costume Designer Christy Stouffer, who coordinates the show’s sartorial selection with the cast members, falls into line with the original bright colors with which the show was intended. Across each of the eight ensemble players a vivid color of the rainbow is represented including red, orange, yellow, purple, blue, pink, brown, and green. John The Baptist/Judas and Jesus take up multiple
colors in their wardrobe, with Jesus’ painted pants being particularly pretty.
Keeping the pacing moving smoothly, Dick allows the ensemble to play with the parables in ways that are relatable yet true to the form of the story. Herein comes more references to musical shows, and they are laced throughout the performance in both the spoken parables and in off-shoots of the songs. The most prominent one coming to mind happens during “Turn Back, O Man” where a reference to Wicked, Schwartz’ current Broadway affair, is made quite clearly. These little theatrical-insider jokes are extremely entertaining for those that get the references, which appears to be most of the audience, showing that Dick and the company know their audience well.
Choreographer Jason Kimmell puts a lot of exuberant energy into making the dances that happen in the show happen with exhilaration. While it isn’t the cleanest of choreography, for this show in particular, it doesn’t have to be. There is a bouncing excitement that transfers off of these ten individuals directly into the audience and really engages those of us watching with the rhythm of the music, creating a desire to want to dance, sing, and bounce along with them as they move through the iconic numbers like “Day By Day”, “We Beseech Thee” and “Light of the World.”
Everyone finds their own little niche in this production, taking a moment and making it theirs, whether it’s through comedy or song. Lorelei Jennifer Kahn takes on “Turn Back, O Man” and delivers it with sauce and sass into the audience, really taking an opportunity to infuse some humor into the situation. Cristina Shunk, who has the “Learn Your Lessons Well” solo, finds her moment in the parable of Abraham and Lazarus where she plays Abraham like a gangster Godfather figure complete with hat and big-butt cigar. The affectation she puts to her voice to channel that character is hysterical and gives the audience some levity when digesting the tale.
Almost everyone in the ensemble gets a solo bit during “Light of the World”, the act one finale. But it’s Joe Rose whose verse seems most memorable. There is something gut-bustingly hilarious about the way he enters the parable about The Rich Man, taking his 15-seconds of fame by blending Tevye and Elvis into one hot mess of a character and pushing their iconic lines together. Paul Ballard is another one who finds his moments in the most curious of places, particularly when being the silent but reactive elder and hard-working son in the parable of “The Prodigal Son.” Ballard’s facial expressions are quite vivid and really make this story feel complete when the moral feels somewhat lacking. (Hey, not all the bible stories are good ones!)
Taking a swanky spin of jazz and cabaret-style singing and body language, Lindsey Miller, who up until this moment looks the adorable innocent of the bunch, charges into “Bless the Lord” with this almost sinful sound that is just too good to keep a secret. With the other four girls of the ensemble providing backup vocals and dancer-moves in this number, it gives Miller a chance to showcase her ferocity in addition to her vocal talent. In a much more serious vein, Claire Edwards takes on the vocal responsibility of “By My Side” (supported with dulcet and haunting harmonies by Christina Shunk.) But Edwards is not without versatility. The “Good Samaritan” parable gives Edwards a chance to show-off her silly side, especially when it comes to cleaning and dressing the finger-puppet’s wounds. With Captain Morgan.
A woman of many talents, Christy Stouffer— in addition to her costuming the show and assistant directing— plays an assortment of instruments all throughout the performance. Her most memorable instrumental incident is playing the recorder during one of the more somber numbers. Stouffer, who has cheeky character work throughout the parables, is best noted for leading the infamous “Day by Day” to its full classic glory with lots of hand-clapping, feet-jumping, and overall spirited enthusiasm that naturally accompanies the song.
Comic king and class clown R. Brett Rohr steals so many scenes it’s a wonder Jesus isn’t putting him in ten-commandment timeout! Yucking it up like Groucho Marx,al and throwing all sorts of little dated but hiarlious references into his moments inside the parables, Rohr is the real comic cad among the bunch. A great many gags and bits are facilitated through his shenanigans. Putting a tremendously radiant effort into “We Beseech Thee”, Rohr goes buck-wild when it comes to pumping up the song with excitement and energy, having the others in the ensemble quickly follow him through this number.
It’s always felt a bit odd— though it intentionally written this way— that John the Baptist and Judas are played by the same actor (my father— a first time Godspell-er— actually asked was it because they couldn’t afford to hire enough actors for the show) but Frank Antonio, a well-seasoned veteran to both the role and the show, does it a swift and stern justice. The switch to Judas appears to happen quite early on in the production, however, this makes “All For The Best” a fascinating routine that he shares with Jesus, not only because of the way they both patter and Vaudeville flatfoot their way through it but because of the relationship dynamic between them that it constructs on either side of the number. Antonio is wildly expressive of face and of voice, leading “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from the back of the house without any need of a microphone. The way he genuinely puts a playful attitude forward when paling around with Jesus makes the betrayal (SPOILER ALERT: It’s the bible…it does not end well for Jesus…) that much more harrowing.
Jesus (John Andrew Rose) Christ— Supersta— wait…wrong musical. Though I would not be far off in claiming Rose to be a superstar given his impressive performance as the Messiah. Convivial, congenial, and honest, Rose invites the audience to experience the parables with him, explore the lessons through him and does not preach them in a condescending fashion as some Jesus’ are wont to do. With a clear voice (that could really be augmented tenfold with a handheld mic) “Save the People” and “Beautiful City” are quite stirring. Funneling a storm cloud of hellacious anger into “Alas For You”, Rose showcases a strong sense of versatility and that anger never truly leaves him, though he channels it upward to the heavenly father as the show progresses to his unnatural end.
God save the people! By giving them a Godspell that speaks to its origins. No frills, no fuss, just the story. And a good one at that. Be sure to catch Pasadena Theatre Company’s Godspell this summer so you too can build a beautiful city of man in your heart.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
Godspell plays through July 23, 2017 at the Pasadena Theatre Company at Anne Arundel Community College in the Recital Hall of the Humanities Building— 101 College Parkway in Arnold, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or in advance online.