Also see Scott's recent review of 42nd Street
For their latest effort, La Comedia Dinner Theatre, southwest Ohio's largest and best dinner theater, presents an energetic and well-performed production of Godspell, based on the New Testament Book of Matthew.
Godspell focuses primarily on the teachings of Jesus, rather than telling the story of the Savior's life. While there are scenes depicting the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the Last Supper, and the Messiah's crucifixion, these serve mostly as a framework for the many lessons taught during Jesus' ministry.
The musical was conceived by John Michael Tebiak and enjoyed successful runs on and off Broadway during the 1970s and remains one of the most frequently produced shows in the country today. Godspell doesn't provide for strong character or plot development. Rather, it focuses on the Christian perspectives on love, forgiveness, morality, and community through the parables of Jesus. As a result, the spiritual component of the followers seems secondary to the message itself.
The score for the show was one of the first by famed composer Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Children of Eden). The songs are an effective mix of styles including folk, gospel, pop, vaudeville, and rock. The score consists mostly of simple, yet highly melodic tunes, with many of the lyrics based on biblical text, including "Day by Day". For this production, the optional songs "Tower of Babble Prologue" and "Beautiful City" are not included.
La Comedia's Godspell boasts a young and energetic group of talented performers. The ten-member cast consists of Rian Bodner (Jesus), Chris Crouch (John/Judas), Carrie Cimma, Kristen Beil, Nathan I. Brisby, Simone Catalano, Michael Drolet, Tauren Hagans, Raelyn Hennesee, and David Perlman. Each proves to be a powerful vocalist and wonderful dancer without exception. As Jesus, Bodner displays a confident stage presence and is a captivating storyteller. Crouch is the most impressive singer, with ample opportunity to show off his abilities with songs such as "Prepare ye the way of the Lord ", "All Good Gifts", and "On The Willows."
The show has always provided for a great deal of freedom in direction due to the lack of a strong narrative. The parables that comprise the bulk of the musical are open to interpretation in their presentation, and director/choreographer Keith Cromwell provides a varied and visually interesting staging. A great deal of humor is communicated via modern references, ranging from American Idol to Trading Spaces. Further present day significance is shown via mention of the September 11 tragedies. With a quick pace and some unique choreography that puts his talented cast to good use, Cromwell is to be praised for his efforts with Godspell.
Matthew J. Evans provides a set reminiscent of Rent, with a multi-tiered industrial metallic structure as the main design. A beautifully painted sun on the floor and an effectively used projection screen round out the scenic creations. The design is put to good use and is matched by likewise modern costumes by Jane Sizemore and Jody Williams.
Godspell is a pleasant show focusing on the teachings of Jesus. With a well-known score, solid direction, and an exciting cast, La Comedia presents a likable production. The musical continues through November 3, 2002 and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.