“Godspell” a Powerful Performance that will Linger in Reflection

As I take pen in hand at 1 o’clock in the morning, I am still riding high on the joyful energy displayed in Thursday night’s opening of the Montgomery College musical production of “Godspell.”  The play, nicely directed by Jami Hughes, was presented at the Woodland’s campus theater building and will have additional performances at 7:30 p.m. April 5, 6 and 7, with Sunday matinees April 1 and 8 at 2:30 p.m. (Call 936-273-7021 for ticket information.) If you need a head start on the joy of the Easter season, don’t miss this fun-filled Broadway revival.

The eclectic stage set (Scenic/Lighting Designer, David Marco) looks like a cross between a garage in need of a good clean-out, and a messy artist’s studio. Led by Lorne Kelly, the cast enters through the audience with a resonant “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” that is full of enthusiasm, but regrettably over-amplified. The cast designed their own pleasantly offbeat costumes. (My spies tell me some outfits came from the popular “Hot Topic” shop at The Woodland’s Mall.) The five member backstage band does fine work under the musical direction of David Englert.

Handsome Kyle Kutter is well cast in the demanding role of Jesus; and if (as is the case in his opening vocal, “Save the People”) he has not yet reached the peak of perfection as a singer, he never fails to bring joyous enthusiasm, fine stage presence, and an excellent speaking voice to his sensitive characterization. As Jesus shares his parables throughout the show, a variety of sometimes zany, sometimes touching sketches and vignettes emerge. Scripture passages are treated as the poetry they truly are; and one sometimes senses a Shakespearean atmosphere in the dialogue. Meanwhile, speaking of dialogue, this young cast occasionally rushes the delivery of lines or lyrics making them difficult to hear.
Lovely Lindsay Arnold arrives with a stellar rendition of the show’s biggest hit, “Day By Day.” It brings gentle order to the zany fun that precedes it, and her sweet, bird-like voice is most endearing. The cast joins in the cute, soft-shoe choreography. Then there are amusing spoofs of T.V. talk shows, and others like “Twilight Zone,” “Family Feud,” and Sumo Wrestling. The production even allows for current day updates like commercials for Kit-Kat bars and references to computers.

Pretty Megan Kane leads “Learn Your Lessons Well” in pleasant voice. Attractive blonde, Holland Vavra, has equally attractive wine-satin slacks. She leads a “Bless the Lord” that wends its way into a funky dance number with good choral support. Mr. Kutter offers an animated “All For the Best.” The optimistic song features Mr. Kelly with catchy and melodic counterpoint as the boys dance nimbly atop the loud speakers, and the full cast chimes in for a big finish.

David Kerr sings a touchingly beautiful “All Good Gifts” that suddenly lifts the production to new heights of excellence. Earlier in the show he proved he has a decided knack for comedy. Now he lights up the room with a tender, yet powerful vocal performance that is a highlight of the evening and verifies his Music Major credentials. Then, from Bill Jack Davis, we get a hilarious impression of the Rev. Billy Graham. Mr. Davis is an Assistant Dean at Montgomery College.

In Act II Leslie Harlton does a sultry “Turn Back, O Man” with a touch of Mae West, while the cast threatens to overtake the Radio City Rockettes with some high-stepping kicks.(Ms. Hughes was also Choreographer.) Kutter has a weak moment with an “Alas for You” that is aptly named because it is painful to listen to. The young actor has so many assets, and hopefully some further vocal training will complete the package. Kane and Amy Kelley pair up for a “By My Side” that is at its best when the fine full chorus joins in. Ryan Cowles offers another promising voice that will probably grow with training as he offers an exuberant “We Beseech Thee” that featured an interesting choreographic tableau.

A terrific choral reprise of “Day By Day” left me wanting more. The Last Supper, the betrayal by Judas, and an eerily convincing Crucifixion were all well staged. As the Lord writhes in pain on the cross, a hopeful chant of “Long Live God” arises. There is a dramatic removal of Christ from the cross that seemed a fitting reminder of the current Lenten season. On some mystical level we come to realize that this effervescent theatrical offering is about something serious after all. Then, suddenly, there is a full cast return to “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” and at the curtain call Jesus returns in the white raiment of Resurrection.

(The Courier    4.4.01)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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