Reviewed by Tony Annicone
The Players last show of their 108th season is “Godspell” with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by John-Michael Tebelak, originally opened Off-Broadway on May 17, 1971. It is the loose account of the life and death of Christ and is constructed as a continuous stream of stories, told through parables, many taken from the Gospel according to St. Matthew and St. Luke. The show lives on in the minds of many as one of the “hippie” musicals and is performed in two acts. Also Godspell is the Old English spelling of gospel. The show is sketch-like in nature and suited to improvisations and ad libs. The timeless message of “Godspell” has always been about finding your quiet, unshakeable faith amid a loud, very cold, very shallow modern world. Mike Farrelly picks 10 of the best performers for this show and elicits terrific performances from each and everyone of them. Musical director Ron Procopio not only taught the different style of songs to the cast but plays lead keyboard while conducting a three piece orchestra. Choreographer Michael Maio taught the different styles of dance to them including soft shoe, Charleston and jazz. Their combined efforts win them a standing ovation at the close of the show.<P>
The set for the show is by Patricia Cotoia while all the costumes are by Bob DeMattio. Ed Benjamin III stars as Jesus and is excellently cast in this role. One of Jesus’ most powerful numbers is “Alas for You” where the words “Alas, alas, alas for you! Blind Fools!!” which rings true today as it did back in biblical times as well as in 1970’s when the show was first written. Ed’s first song is “Save the People” where the cast dances around him. He also sings “Beautiful City” where he explains that he wants a city for all men. The Last Supper and the death scene are fabulously portrayed not leaving a dry eye in the house including mine. The opening philosophers section has beautiful harmonies in it and is wonderfully performed as they sing individual parts first and then later in harmony. Black and gray costumes are used for this opening segment and then brightly colored costumes are used for the rest of the show.
Michael always does an incredible job on any show that he directs. He gives all his performers their moment to shine in this high energy show. The first act is vaudevillian while the second act becomes more somber after “Turn Back O Man.” Samuel Gelman as John the Baptist sings “Prepare Ye” and later becomes Judas where he and Ed stop the show with “”All for the Best” done in counterpoint. “Day by Day” is given a lovely rendition by Trish St. Laurent with her powerful voice where the disciples learn to share with each other. Another fantastic group dance occurs as Bethany Lynn Giammarco belts out “Bless the Lord.”
A rousing number is “We Beseech Thee” with powerful vocals by Chris Margadonna and a dynamite dance by the cast. The betrayal scene is stunning, too. “By My Side” is a dynamic touching duet by Rebecca Kilcline and Stephanie Post. Stephanie also sings “Learn Your Lessons Well.” Ron Procopio sings the tear jerking “On the Willows” during the Last Supper as Jesus says goodbye to his followers which leaves the audience in tears. My favorite song in the show is “Turn Back O Man” sung excellently by Christy McCarthy as she tries to seduce the men in the audience as well as Jesus. “All Good Gifts” is sung by Tim Reid with his tenor voice soaring off the charts. Court Stafford sings “Light of the World” which closes the first act. “Long Live God” and “Prepare Ye” are done in counterpoint as Jesus is crucified. The show’s ending will leave you emotionally drained at its intensity but uplifted because Jesus left hope for the future. In these trying times who could ask for anything better for the world. So for a marvelous rendition of “Godspell”, be sure to catch this version at The Players. To join this 108 year old theatre club, just call Bill Applegate.
GODSPELL (12 to 21 May)
The Players, Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street, Providence, RI
1(401)273-0590 or www.playersri.org