BWW Review: GODSPELL REIMAGINED Revives The Classic Rock Opera For A New Generation
Wednesday 9th February 2016, 7:30pm, Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
Stephen Schwartz (Music and Lyrics) and John-Michael Tebelak's (Book) popular 70's Rock Opera is refreshed and revived in 2015 with GODSPELL REIMAGINED. Director Glenn Elston has bought together a young vibrant cast to present the biblical message of being good to one another with a contemporary currency.
The stage is dressed with an assortment of 44 gallon drums, many of which bare cutouts of symbols from a range of religions, some cut down to form podiums and each painted in muted unobtrusive tones giving the space a feel of a backlot or warehouse. A drum-kit, guitar stands and keyboard are situated amongst the barrels with the drums and keys on raised platforms.
As the audience settles, an assortment of door to door style preachers in suits, white shirts and ties are attempting to hand out a range of fliers to the crowd. As arguments arise between the preachers they are eventually stripped down to their smalls before John (Mark Dickinson), in blue cheesecloth top and leather pants, amusingly 'baptizes' the audience. In a retro printed t-shirt and black leather pants, Jesus (Christopher Southall) makes his presence known. The rest of the ensemble return to the stage, dressed simply in lycra leggings and white t-shirts for the females and leather pants and loose cotton shirts for the males. A multicolored range of op-shop sourced tailcoats bring the ensemble together as Jesus' followers
The core quartet of actors, Louisa Fitzhardinge, Lucy Gransbury, Dickinson and Southall, play out the majority of the bible parables with fabulous accents, physicality and facial expressions to make each story unique. Modern references are slipped in along with a share of comedy "shelving", and the fourth wall is often broken, drawing the audience in as part of the congregation. The audience is invited to join in a game of charades and role play with amusing results. Note to theatre goers, if you need reading glasses and are sitting near an aisle, have them on your person.
Southall is wonderful as Jesus and Elston's choice to cast the lanky newcomer is a great counterpoint to the bigger, rugged Dickinson. Southhall has a quiet strength and charisma that makes him believable as the historic leader. His vocals are light and pure whilst still being solid and he handles the range of styles well. The Finale, where Jesus sings out "Oh God, I'm dying" does however seem to sit at the very bottom of his register where he loses strength. As mentioned, Dickinson who doubles as John and Judas, is a physical and vocal contrast to Southall. Dickinson is a more imposing figure with a deeper darker tone, useful as the skeptic of the group and ultimately as Jesus' betrayer. Fitzhardinge and Gransbury have a wonderful energy and clownish innocence as their unnamed characters relish in the storytelling. As with Southall and Dickinson, the women have a wonderful talent with accents and comedic timing with Fitzhardinge's character having a younger playful attitude and Gransbury's being more sassy and cheeky. Fitzhardinge has a strong voice with the flexibility to take o the different musical styles and Gransbury's sultry jazz utilizes her lower range beautifully.
The band is made up of Lucy O'Brien (Musical Director, Keys and Vocals), Ben Yarram (Guitar and Vocals), Sam Jones (Bass and Vocals), and Nick Robinson (Drums and Vocals). O'Brien also takes a lead singer role for a rock number, supported by the ensemble, guitars and drums. The band also forms part of Jesus' following, helping out expressing a few of the allegories and having Yarrum and Jones being of similar stature to Dickinson proves useful in the finale.
This is a fun filled night that allows audiences to reconnect to this iconic musical and also share it with a new generation. It progresses at a good pace with a variety of storytelling methods and presentations of the musical works that are interspersed throughout. Sue-Ellen Shook has created a vibrant choreography that allows focused attention and complete chaos. GODSPELL REIMAGINED is a wonderful interpretation that will delight fans and first timers alike and is suitable for all ages and denominations.
Venue: The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
Season: Tuesday 9 - Sunday 14 February 2016
Performances: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday 7.30pm
Prices: $59 Concession | $69 Adult
Bookings: sydneyoperahouse.com or 9250 7777
Saturday 2pm, Sunday 2pm & 6pm
Venue: Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Season: Sunday 21 February, Sunday 28 February and Sunday 13 March 2016