With delicious weather, and under a full moon, it was a perfect night to be in downtown Houston at the Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall. This Opening Night of Masquerade Theatre’s wonderful “GODSPELL” production (director, Phillip Duggins) began on an unexpectedly amusing note. In this lighthearted musical romp (music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz), the life and death of Jesus are recounted in song, dance, and often-witty dialogue. Before Jesus (Braden Hunt) arrives on the scene, the talented full cast was onstage for the opening “Prologue,” the complex counterpoints of “Tower of Babel,” and the wonderfully soaring sounds of the full ensemble’s “Prepare Ye,” ably led by Sam Brown. But from somewhere backstage came the distinct sound of a bladder being emptied, and a distant voice saying “I hope they didn’t hear that!” I will not reveal my speculation, as to which character had an open mike while seeking that last minute relief, lest I be accused of sacrilege! While there were occasional sound glitches and some overly loud drumming from the orchestra, the rest of the evening went quite smoothly.
With fine voice, a joyful countenance, and resounding support from the powerful 15-member ensemble, Mr. Hunt lit up the stage with a glowing “Save the People.” The clever production goes on to give us amusing takes on the parables of the Christ, using everything from chants and hip-hop, to vaudeville routines, charades, and assorted silly antics that combine to keep the performance merry, while reminding us that perhaps we should be reading more scripture. (The “Good Samaritan” and “Prodigal Son” sketches were hilarious!)
Hunt’s boyish grin and charm radiated the innocence of the Lord as the luminous and haunting “Day By Day,” filled the room with a warm glow that pulsed with rhythmic excitement. Laura Gray offered a sassy “Learn Your Lessons Well,” and Kristin Hanka performed a fierce “Bless the Lord,” that took off like a rocket and blew the roof off of the room while becoming the best revival meeting in town. John Gremillion joined Hunt for the infectious fun of a dazzlingly glib, “All For the Best.” Luther Chakurian seemed momentarily out of vocal focus at the outset of “All Good Gifts,” but the song became a warm embrace as the ensemble joined in, and Mr. Chakurian brought the selection to a thrilling close. Evan Tessier (with a robust, almost operatic voice), was joined by talented Monica Passley for the electrifying, “You Are the Light of the World” that closed Act One.
In Act Two, Miss Gray and Russell Freeman gave a cheerful reprise of “Learn Your Lessons Well,” and Rebekah Dahl provided a lusty and provocative, “Turn Back, O Man,” featuring a stripper-style dance ensemble (choreography by Miss Gray), that was as red-hot as the stage lighting (designer, Mr. Freeman). There were audio problems for Mr. Hunt in the aptly titled, “Alas for You.” Stephanie Bradow (who also designed the show’s gay costumes), and Kristina Sullivan, provided an elegant duet of “By My Side,” that was full of musical riches. Beth Hempen and David Higginbotham led a cast that was clearly having a ball in the prancing merriment of “We Beseech Thee.” (Higginbotham doubled as scenic designer for the simple but attractive set). Allison Sumrall’s performance of “Beautiful City” was full of passionate tenderness and joyful hope.
The poignant Passover scene, and the dramatic scourging and crucifixion were well staged, but the “Finale’s” chorus of “Long Live God,” rescued the audience with its redemptive power. As the neon cross was rising, so were the spirits of the audience at yet another successful Masquerade production.
(The Courier 4.23.06)