Godspell-2012, Conceived and with book by John-Michael Tebelak, Music and New Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Directed by Trey Compton. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
The cast of Godspell-2012
"The Gospel According to Schwartz."
Andrew Pace and Katie Luke; photo: Jade Campbell
Until I attended the opening of "Godspell-2012" I hadn't really known that the biggest hit in Stephen Schwartz's college-based musical from 1970, "Day By Day" was actually written by the original college songwriters of the show, Peggy Gordon and Jay Hamburger. I must have known this at some point but it had gone out of my head completely and had become a Stephen Schwartz song in my memory as it came from the original show, "Godspell." Looking it up to be sure, I found that another song in the show was written by Gordon and Hamburger as well, "By My Side," another beautiful tune and lyric.
That said, the production at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, NY is a revision done by Schwartz in 2011 for a Broadway revival and it is a marked improvement on the original show. So much so, that I found myself enjoying it as I never had before. Part of that is due to the staging by Trey Compton which is richly deserving of praise and the cast of players who are beautiful to view, beautiful to listen to and overwhelmingly beautiful in every conceivable way.
They play instruments to accompany their band, beautifully conducted by Alan Schlichting. Mandolin, banjo, ukelele, saxophone, and bongo drums get many specialty moments and Jesus plays the guitar as though it was the magic wand of this show, bringing electric wonders into the world on stage. The music touched me as it never had before. Every number was different in its compliment and each orchestration complimented the song perfectly. The show teeter-totters from solo piano, or solo percussion to full orchestra with voices. The musical texture is so varied you are never bored by the sound of the show.
Likewise, the dancing choreographed by the director brought so much ecstatic freedom to the company that it never seemed planned at all, but only sweetly interlocking figures for cast members to use to show off their abilities. Compton, in his direction, gives us moments that touch the heart and a few that just make us sit up straight and take notice. The parable of the prodigal son gives us physical images that leave us in wonder and awe.
Zack Zaromatidis and Katie Luke; photo: Jade Campbell
As a core group of performers the company shines. But there are two men whose roles are more specific than any of the others: Judas and Jesus. Andrew Pace is Judas (and also John, the Baptist for a minute or two) and he is terrific. He makes his character awkwardly involved and keeps the concept of the required informer quiet until its time draws near. It probably is a good thing because Pace is a fine performer who could easily surpass a lesser performer in the role of Jesus. Nevertheless, he controls his character most of the time. His singing of "Prepare Ye" is, however, extremely powerful and grand and his rendition of "On the Willows," late in the second act, is tender and moving.
Luckily for the show the Jesus of Zack Zaromatidis is strong, charismatic, handsome and gentle, all at the same time. Playing his guitar he is overwhelming. Singing of love and of God, the Father he is moving and compelling. He is a very handsome young man with that odd commodity, charisma, oozing from his pores. His scene work is as fine as his guitar work and his singing. He makes it easy to see why the apostles all want to follow him - he's a rock star for his time.
For the second time this week I can only praise what I have seen. I find no flaws anywhere in this production and, in fact, see many things I usually don't notice. First the cast, though. "Day by Day" is sung tenderly and with a lot of heart by Liane Zielinski, and "Turn Back, O Man" is a sweet, dirty treat in the hands and voice of Megan Koumis. The clarion tones of Nolan Baker bring truth to "All Good Gifts" while Connor Wayne Milam does beautiful justice to the show and the world with his "Learn Your Lessons Well." Katie Luke sings a beautiful "Bless the Lord" and Katherine McLellan gives "By My Side" more than its due, raising it to classic proportions. The first act ends with "Light of the World" led by Paul Urriola in a moving, muezzin-call style. All in all, I couldn't have been happier. Nor would Schwartz if he heard any of this.
The Company of Godspell-2012
Technically this a very beautiful show. Jade Campbell's costumes are so very right for each character in this new era that Compton has set the show. Making a contemporary look work for a time so far past that we only have motion pictures to truly represent it isn't easy but she has done it brilliantly. The set by Abe Phelps is one of his finest, a rolling shipping trunk becoming the conduit between platforms surrounded by a wall of grafiti that makes little sense except to give the show an urban feeling. Phelps has outdone himself with his interlocking platforms and other spaces.
Lighting Designer Allen Phelps far exceeds his best work with this show. He uses light to create depth and show faces at the same time. He gives the company an expanded playing space without touching anything but light. His color choices enrich an already colorful production but they never intrude on the reality that can come only in a musical.
Lucky, talented Trey Compton to have such a company of artists to work with on this very special show. Lucky Alan Schlichting to have such excellent musicians to play with and to accompany these singers. Lucky us to have this show to watch, to witness, to gab about. Goodbye, for a while anyway, J.S. Bach and his Passions according to. . . We have our theatrical composer to pose as his own apostle/saint. And he's done us proud.
Godspell--2012 plays at The Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, NY through August 20. For tickets and information call the box office at 518-794-8989 or go on line at theaterbarn.com.