“Godspell” (Bishop Hendricken’s Summer Stage)

Reviewed by Tony Annicone


Bishop Hendricken’s Summer Stage show this year 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 gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. The show lives on in the minds of many as one of those “hippie” musicals and is performed in two acts. “Godspell” is the Old English spelling of gospel. The show is sketch like in nature and suited to improvisations and ad libs. The updated references include the current president and other contemporary themes told in a comical manner. The timeless message of “Godspell” has always been about finding your quiet, unshakeable faith amid a loud,very cold, very shallow modern world. Director Julia Paolino casts these roles splendidly while music director Richie Sylvia taught the 70 member cast the beautiful harmonies of the numbers while Ryan Cox plays lead keyboards and conducts a marvelous seven piece orchestra. Richie taught the diverse type songs to this young cast. Choreographer Teresa Pearson taught the different styles of dance including Charleston, soft shoe, kick line and jazz. Their combined efforts plus their extremely talented cast wins a standing ovation at curtain call.

The set and the costumes are by Carrie Devanney. Jack Ruscetta stars as Jesus and is excellently cast in this role. One of Jesus’ most powerful numbers is “Alas for You” where the words ring true for contemporary audiences as it did back in biblical times and in the 1970’s when the show was first written. Jack’s first song is “Save the People” where the cast dances around him. He also sings “Beautiful City” that he wants a city for all people to enjoy. The Last Supper and the death scene are marvelously portrayed not leaving a dry eye in the house including mine. The opening philosophers section has beautiful harmonies in it as they sing individually first and then in harmony and counterpoint later on.

Julia does a terrific job blocking her huge cast and gives them each their moment to shine in this high energy show. The first act is more vaudevillian while the second act becomes more somber after “Turn Back O Man.” Stephen Lee as John the Baptist sings “Prepare Ye” with his powerful voice to open the show. Ryan Farrell plays Judas displaying his strong voice where he and Jack stop the show with “All For The Best” done in counterpoint with hats and canes. “Day by Day” is given a lovely rendition by Madelyn Dutilly with her beautiful voice where the disciples learn to share with each other. Another fantastic group number occurs when Samantha Hopgood and Madeline Morin belt out “Bless the Lord” with their strong voices. Samantha also sings “Learn Your Lessons Well” with Samantha Schliefer.

A rousing number is “We Beseech Thee” with powerful vocals by Ryan McKenn, Nicholas Bullock and Emily Fielding with a dynamite dance by the cast. The betrayal scene is stunning, too. “By My Side” is sung by the quartet of Madeline Morin, Michaela Vieira, Gillian Austin and Emily Fielding. The tear jerking “On the Willows” is brilliantly sung by the quartet of Nicholas Bullock, Ryan Farrell and Joseph and Thomas Burdick. This song is done as Jesus says goodbye to his followers during the last supper and there isn’t a dry eye in the house. My favorite song in the show is “Turn Back O Man” sung excellently by Lily Brewster as she tries to seduce Jesus and the men in the audience. Jack’s voice soars in his section of this song. “All Good Gifts” is sung by Joseph Burdick with his tenor voice soaring off the charts during it. Elizabeth Barrett sings “Light of the World” to close Act 1. “Long Live God” and “Prepare Ye” are done in counterpoint as Jesus is crucified at the end of the show and “Beautiful City” is also sung in this section. The ending of this musical will leave you emotionally drained at its intensity but uplifted because Jesus left hope for the future. In these trying and uncertain times who could ask for anything better for the world. So be sure to catch “Godspell” at Summerstage before time runs out,

GODSPELL ( 3 to 6 August)

Summer Stage, Bishop Hendricken High School, 2615 Warwick Ave, Warwick, RI

1(401)739-3450 ext 172 or www.hendrickentheatre.com/ARTS