BWW Reviews: Tomorrow's Stars Shine in GODSPELL
The intern program at Maine State Music Theatre is one of the company's finest features, and what better way to showcase these talented 2014 performers than as the youthful, energetic ensemble in the Steven Schwartz/John-Michael Tebelak rock musical, GODSPELL.
Billed as a concert performance, this production directed by MSMT's Artistic Director, Curt Dale Clark, is actually fairly elaborate in terms of choreography and musical-dramatic staging. Clark sets a compelling pace - ninety minutes of sheer joie de vivre - and he draws from these young actors highly individualized and detailed characterizations, at the same time that he inspires the kind of ensemble dynamic so crucial to this show: the sense of love and sharing that resonates with the play's message and communicates to the audience.
His choreography, created together with Marc Robin (with some additional dances by Dylan Cole Passman, Alec Cohen, Tara Lynn Steele, and Jessica Lawyer), has an infectious exuberance, but also allows for moments of demanding technique. The company makes extensive use of the aisles and, as in the original, interacts with the audience, no where perhaps more cleverly than in the pre-curtain scenario from which actors playing audience and crew members morph into Jesus' onstage followers.
Played against the backdrop of the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers set, the rest of the décor consists of a large grill, which screens the six-person onstage band and later serves for Jesus' crucifixion, plus a few simple props. Lighting by Daniel Robinson animates the space, using a vibrant combination of purple, orange, green, and blue gels and sweeping spotlights that suggest the rock concert ambiance, at the same time as they create warmth and subtlety as needed. Travis M. Grant's contemporary costumes are appropriately colorful, characterful, and quirky. Molly Schleicher balances the sound design extremely well even when actors use the auditorium as well as the stage. Music Director Samuel Thorne Bagala shapes the score with brio and heart.
As Jesus, Kevin Nietzel brings a gentle radiance, a clear, sweet tenor, and a formidable dance presence. Cameron Wright is vocally and dramatically powerful as John the Baptist and Judas. Zoe Raphael uses her lovely soprano to great emotional effect in " Day by Day," while Tommy Waltz in "All Good Gifts" and Danielle Lane in "Turn Back, o Man" offer vocal highpoints. As a whole, the cast proves their dance gifts, but Nietzel, Dylan Cole Passman, Alec Cohen, and Jessica Lawyer especially catch the eye.
Yet, singling out individuals in this fifteen-person ensemble seems almost unfair, as each and every cast member has his signature moments to contribute. Perhaps what strikes the viewer most is not only the talent of these young professionals, but also their commitment to their chosen art. MSMT's intern program has a high rate of placing its alumni on Broadway or in other prestigious regional theatres, and this show speaks to the experience they receive. Clark and his cast rehearsed GODSPELL after a full day's work on the main stage productions - (several of the interns are dancing in Seven Brides) - and each one of these budding stars put every ounce of his artistry and heart into these performances. What they have achieved is simply magical!
Photos Courtesy Maine State Music Theatre