Also see John's review of Rent
Long before composer Stephen Schwartz ever wrote his 2003 Broadway hit musical Wicked, he made his mark on American musical theatre with his 1971 Off-Broadway musical hit Godspell. This rock musical, based loosely on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, lightheartedly reenacts scenes and parables from the life of Jesus and his followers using a blend of song, dance, charades, slapstick, mime and impersonations. This production of Godspell is presented by the new Andrews Living Arts Studio theatre company.
Godspell was originally conceived, written and directed by John-Michael Tebelak as a Masters Thesis project at Carnegie Mellon University in 1971. Schwartz wrote the music and new lyrics for some of the songs which had been taken from the Episcopal Hymnal (additional music and lyrics for "By My Side" were provided by Peggy Gordon and Jay Hamburger). Godspell opened Off-Broadway on May 17, 1971 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. It then moved to the Promenade where it ran for 2,124 performances. On June 22, 1976, the show finally opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre, and it played an additional 527 performances.
Soon after the Off-Broadway opening of Godspell, Schwartz wrote music and lyrics for Pippin, The Baker's Wife, Working and The Magic Show. At one point Godspell, Pippin and The Magic Show were all running on Broadway concurrently. Schwartz went on to write the lyrics to Charles Strouse's music for Rags and music and lyrics for Children Of Eden. He later collaborated with composer Alan Menken on the scores for the Disney animated feature Pocahontas, for which he received two Academy Awards and a Grammy, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He also provided songs for DreamWorks' first animated feature, The Prince of Egypt, for which he won another Academy Award for the song "When You Believe."
The black box space of the ALA studio is small but mighty. The size allows the actors to perform without the use of microphones and for the most subtle of expressions to carry to the back of the house. The seating not being raked does make it difficult to see any downstage choreography that is below waist level, however. There are a few moments visually lost to those not in the front row. As part of the continually updated nature of this show, the colorful costuming for this production looks like contemporary hip-hop meets the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The cast of performers is ably led by Patrick Watkins. He has a lovely, lyric tenor voice and adds an experienced ease to his performance as Jesus. He sounds best in the songs "Save The People" and "Oh God, I'm Dying." Karen Reid has strong stage presence, and a funny, sassy feel to her performance that makes her very watchable. Though she is perfect for the song "Turn Back, O Man", the key is just too low for her, and we lose being able to hear chunks of it. Ashlee Madhukar attempts to modernize the song "Bless The Lord" by adding numerous riffs and licks. Unfortunately, the high notes get away from her, and she sacrifices both vocal quality and sincerity. Claudette Farquharson does a nice job with the song "All Good Gifts", but the intentional substitution of alternative notes in parts of the song sadly blur the familiar melody. Alternative notes understandably may have been chosen for the singer, however, as this song is usually sung by a male. There are brief scattered moments throughout the show that allow the talents of various performers to shine. While some shine more brightly than others, happily, what is obvious in this production is that it has been well rehearsed, and is joyfully performed by a cast of promising young actors.
This production of Godspell ran June 3 – June 26, 2010 at the Andrews Living Arts Studio. The Andrews Living Arts Studio is located as 23 NW 5th St., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301. ALA Company Director Robert D. Nation is a former high school drama & musical theatre director with 30 years in educational theatre. He is also a professional actor with Broadway experience, and has produced international touring companies of Broadway shows with young adults. In addition to scheduled performances, the company offers a wide variety of acting classes and workshops taught by Mr. Nation, and Master Classes featuring professional guest artists from NY and LA. For more information on the Andrews Living Arts Studio you may reach them by phone at 954-530-1879, or on line at www.andrewslivingarts.com.