|(top row) Sarah Thornton, Jean Christensen, Rylie Bartell, Bri Edgerton, Mikayla Albano, Arielle Scena-Shifrin |
(middle row) Joseph Vermeire, Prince AV (bottom row) Aubrey McLain, Grace Proschold
By Tina Arth
I have made no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of Godspell, Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak’s 1971 entry into the counterculture “Jesus Freak” theater scene (preceded by 1968’s Joseph and 1970’s Jesus Christ Superstar). Thus, when faced with five shows to be reviewed in a four-day period, the decision of which one to postpone was easy – HART’s Godspell would have to wait. When I finally made it to the show last Saturday, it was a true Christmas miracle – I actually enjoyed the production! While the show itself is still kind of an empty shell, the talent, enthusiasm and energy from HART’s 13-member cast completely filled the vessel and made for an impressively entertaining evening.
Godspell isn’t really a play, or even a traditional musical, but rather a series of parables (what we might now call “teachable moments”) drawn from scripture, acted out by Jesus and 12 others (see any parallels with the Apostles?). In lieu of conventional dialogue there is a recitation accompanying each of the parables plus a generous helping of pop music (at least, pop by 1971 standards) – some catchy, some big dramatic ballads, and some hauntingly beautiful when delivered with delicate harmonies. Act I works its way through loose and often light-hearted renditions of the Sermon on the Mount, the Good Samaritan, Lazarus, and other stories, while Act II leads inexorably toward the crucifixion. The actors play a wide variety of parts, mostly independent of age or gender, with the exception of Stephen Radley (Jesus) and Evan Tait (John the Baptist/Judas). Costuming, face painting, blocking, choreography, and attitude all make it clear to the audience that the players are telling a story, not seriously taking on a role.
Here are some of the reasons why, even if your first reaction isn’t “Yay! Godspell!” you should still go: (1) Fine vocals delivered with skill and passion. When Sarah Thornton and Jean Christensen team up, the result is pure ambrosia. Evan Tait and Prince AV share powerful voices to keep us awake and engaged. Instead of a freak flag, seductress Arielle Scena-Shifrin lets her pink boa fly along with some soaring vocals that lift the production to new heights. (2) Stephen Radley. Surrounded by cartoon characters, Radley gives us a subtle, serious Jesus – a man, not a god, a teacher, not a preacher. Despite the absence of a real script, he manages to make us care about his message and his fate. 3) Quirky, gleeful costumes. You don’t want to miss Joseph Vermeire in his denim overalls and pink ribbons, Sarah Thornton’s octopus-adorned tunic, or some of the flashiest leggings in Hillsboro history. The eccentric costuming (with no clumsy early seventies hippie overtones, thank you very much…) is an unmistakable reminder that the story of Jesus is, ultimately, a tale of good news. (3) Fiercely energetic and uninhibited performances. Each actor, no matter how silly the scene, commits 100% to telling the story – it is clear that they are having an incredibly good time, and their passion for the material is infectious. (4) Aubrey McLain’s smile. I won’t try to explain it – you’ve got to be there! And – (5) This may be your last chance to see a show directed by Ray Hale, as he will be retiring and moving to Florida next year. He has given countless hours of time and tons of talent, patience, and dedication to ensure that HART remains a real asset to the local theater scene. He will be greatly missed, but you don’t need to miss this great show!
Godspell is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington Street, Hillsboro through Sunday, December 17th with a 7:30 p.m. performance on Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2:00 p.m.