Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Godspell
Ivoryton Playhouse
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of Actually, The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?, The Flamingo Kid and Hold These Truths


Sam Sherwood, Josh Walker and Sam Given
Photo by Anne Hudson
Ivoryton Playhouse is currently presenting a ramshackle, somewhat disjointed, yet spirited production of Godspell. With songs by Stephen Schwartz and a book by John-Michael Tebelak, this musical has been delighting audiences since it first premiered Off-Broadway in 1971. The version used at Ivoryton is apparently the same as what appeared on Broadway in 2011, yet there are references to current topical subjects. Curiously, there is no mention in the program of who has added this new book material.

As it happens, this Godspell shines brightest when the cast stops talking and begins to sing the infectious score. During the musical numbers, the show is exuberant and winning, and, happily, all ten members of the company each get a big moment to light up the stage. Unfortunately, in between the songs, this Godspell sags a bit and the dark, dilapidated set designed by Martin Scott Marchitto doesn't help. The book scenes could definitely use more verve and more cohesiveness.

With direction by Jacqueline Hubbard and choreography by Todd Underwood, this production feels all over the place, and the actors, who should feel like a motley group of souls, full of fun, don't really mesh as well as one would like. The costumes, designed by Cully Long, are certainly attractive and they do give each character a separate, distinctive look, and Marcus Abbott's lighting design precisely sets the tone of each scene. However, the scenes are too often arbitrary and at times confusing, though some of this may be more the fault of the book itself, rather than this particular staging.

The silver lining is the collection of upbeat, stage-filling songs, which help keep the show buoyant, even during the slow spots. As Jesus, Sam Sherwood is quite good and charismatic and he especially commands the stage leading the cast in "Save the People," as well as in "Beautiful City," toward the end of the show. The strong-voiced Carson Higgins is just as good in the dual roles of John the Baptist and Judas, including singing a great rendition of "Prepare Ye," which really brings the show to full life. Also, Higgins' playing of Judas is significant and a bit frightening, and he does wonders with the song, "On the Willows."

Also standing out are the excellent Josh Walker, who gets the second act started with a terrific reprise of "Learn Your Lessons Well," including accompanying himself on the piano. Shortly after, Walker scores singing the lead in the full company number "We Beseech Thee." And, of course, there is the biggest hit from the show, "Day by Day," which the adorable Lilly Tobin puts over splendidly, with a wonderful combination of joy and personality. Almost stealing the show is the enormously talented Morgan Morse, singing the first act finale, "Light of the World," and playing a pretty mean guitar, as well.

Looking fabulous, complete with stiletto heels, is Sam Given, who gets the sultry "Turn Back, O Man," which includes intermingling with those seated in the first few rows of the audience. Admittedly marring the song, though, are the spoken lines Given has to deliver in between the lyrics, which almost spoil the mood this performer expertly conjures up. Also not to be forgotten are Gabriella Saramago, Kaileah Hankerson, Jerica Exum, and Kedrick Faulk, all whom truly sparkle in their own individual moments in the spotlight.

A word must be said about the awesome onstage band, led by the fine musical director Michael Morris. Indeed, Stephen Schwartz's score is in very good hands. There is one other number, though, that illustrates both what Ivoryton Playhouse's production of Godspell gets right, as well as what it is lacking: the toe-tapping, vaudeville-like "All for the Best," delivered jointly by Sherwood and Higgins, which almost overflows with mirth and fun. If only some of this ebullience could infuse the rather dour book scenes in between this show's collection of high-spirited songs.

Godspell, through June 16, 2019, at at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton CT. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.


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