‘Godspell’ is The Theater Company’s premiere play
There’s a new theater company in town and they opened their inaugural play, “Godspell,” this past weekend. As a choice for a first production, this somewhat complex musical isn’t easy to put on in a small space with a two-man band and eight performers, but The Theater Company pulled it off with a fun, lively and musically satisfying assemblage.
“Godspell” was composed by Stephen Schwartz with the original book by John-Michael Tebelak. The show opened Off-Broadway on May 17, 1971, and has since been produced by multiple touring companies and in many revivals; one played on Broadway from October 2011 through June 2012.
While the story is based on the life of Jesus, from when he was baptized through his death on the cross, the play is structured as a series of teachings and parables, primarily based on the Gospel of Matthew. The parables are told in a light-hearted way and illustrated with an infectious mix of soft rock, Tin Pan Alley and folk-type music set mostly to lyrics from traditional hymns.
When the musical opened in 1971, it was staged as a counterculture attempt to embrace Christianity in a non-traditional way; the retellings of the parables were done as comedy sketches, performed by a rag-tag group of assorted apostles dressed in mishmash thrift-store clothes, with Jesus and his followers portrayed as flower-children, complete with clown makeup. This current production follows that somewhat dated “hippy” format and feels a bit discordant as the actors put on and take off assorted pieces of mismatched clothing without any seeming purpose. But it also creates some funny interactions and appearances. And there is definitely some fun, particularly in the parable about the sheep and the goats.
The eight actors put forth a capable effort. Noteworthy was David Lynn as the character Judas and Jonathan Sorensen as Jesus; both exhibited charismatic stage presences and fine vocals. Together they did a clever vaudeville-like number called “All for the Best.” I also liked the engaging voice of Robbie Merchant — he can definitely belt out a song. And the entire troupe was in fine voice during the lovely harmonies on “By My Side.”
Director Chris Harada has been involved in the Nevada County theater scene for some time, having directed this same musical more than 20 years ago; his affection for the piece shows in his ability to focus the audience’s attention on the characters in the smallish and non-descript meeting room used as the theater space. Musical Director David Lynn gets kudos for his fine keyboard, guitar and banjo licks, while also singing and acting, often at the same time.
Whether you’ve seen “Godspell” previously or not, it’s worth going to see for its warmth, promotion of love and acceptance, and tuneful music. It continues at Esterly Hall (in the Nevada County Association of Realtors building) in Grass Valley through July 28. Keep this new theater troupe on your radar for its future offerings at http://www.thetheatercompanyinc.com.
Hindi Greenberg is pleased that another theater company is making Nevada County its home. The more, the merrier, for our local theater-loving audiences.
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