Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Godspell
A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of I Am My Own Wife and The Lifespan of a Fact and Zander's review of Sylvia


Trent Saunders and Cast
Photo by Jeff Butchen
A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut is currently presenting a very uneven production of Godspell. As directed and newly adapted by Daniel C. Levine, the changes that have been made don't really add much to the musical and too often detract from the best part of the show, namely the Stephen Schwartz score. And speaking of Schwartz, apparently, he is fine with Godspell being updated and has given his approval (even providing some new lyrics). But, even with a talented, extremely hardworking cast and lavish design elements, it really is only when this production of Godspell sings that the show shines.

Otherwise, throwing in scenes of corporate America, greed, and even Botox bogs the show down. This is too bad, because it is evident that a great deal of time and effort has been given to this staging and these revisions. But the changes don't really work and often left me waiting for the next song to come along. A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut is usually reliable for presenting excellent shows. But, with this Godspell, things don't turn out as well as one would hope.

The curtain is up when the audience arrives, and Reid Thompson's impressive set of an abandoned church is shrouded in darkness. Ever so slowly, there is movement onstage as the performers make their entrances. Some characters come sneaking in through the windows looking for shelter, while another group are portrayed as real estate people, talking about getting rid of the church to make way for apartments. This prologue is rather lengthy, as we wait for the first song, "Prepare Ye," to start. Oddly enough, when the stage is at last illuminated (credit to the excellent lighting designer Jack Mehler), the premise of the prologue is largely thrown out and the actors suddenly become different characters.

To focus on what does work, once the band, led by the fine music director Danny White, starts playing the individual numbers, this company of performers is really free to strut their stuff. The most popular song in the show, "Day by Day," is a real highlight and Katie Ladner's singing is stunning. Other good numbers include "Beautiful City" (richly sung by Trent Saunders, playing Jesus) and the nicely staged "By My Side," wonderfully delivered by Monica Ramirez. Also, "On the Willows" is a pleasure, with Jaime Cepero (a very good Judas) and the lovely Shaylen Harger singing the song extremely well.

It is an unfortunate mark of this production that "Turn Back, O Man" doesn't go over as well as it should, simply because choreographer Sara Brians has been allowed to pretty much re-create the choreography of "All That Jazz" from Chicago. (It's worth mentioning that the other musicals highlighted in the show, namely Hamilton, A Chorus Line, and Wicked, simply made me long for productions of those shows, instead of Godspell).

To his credit, director Daniel C. Levine does keep the production moving along, but the new scenes too often feel uninteresting. Nonetheless, the spirited cast does everything it can to make this show entertaining, and, as mentioned, the production values are topnotch. A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut recently presented a terrific new version of another Stephen Schwartz show, Working, and it is a real shame that their production of Godspell is not as good.

Godspell runs through March 8, 2020, at A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut, 36 Old Quarry Road, Ridgefield CT. For tickets and more information, please visit www.actofct.org or call the box office at 475-215-5433.


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