BWW Reviews: GODSPELL - St. Matthew's Gospel with Great Energy
The book of Matthew in the Bible is the story of Jesus and covers his teachings and his parables. The musical Godspell takes those Bible stories, adds songs and makes the parables into a series of sketches. The stories have comedy and lessons to be learned, set to a score with a wide variety of uplifting music.
More than forty years ago an iconic cast performed in the legendary production of Godspell in Toronto. A group of young unknowns took to the stage, and the show ran for about year. When it closed, there was a crop of new stars who went on to Second City and Saturday Night Live. That production of Godspell launched the careers of Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Jayne Eastwood, Dave Thomas, and musical director Paul Shaffer.
Last year, Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia put on an excellent production of Godspell with a cast of very talented, young unknowns - and now Drayton Entertainment has mounted that same production on stage at St. Jacobs. If anything, this year's version is even better with a cast whose voices have matured. After the St. Jacobs run, the show heads out on a U.S. tour.
Water pours from heaven and John the Baptist (Graham Parkhurst) baptises Jesus (Jake Stern) and the rest of the cast, using a big sponge. Graham is excellent leading the cast in the beautiful song "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord". Rebecca McCauley gives a perfect rendition of "Day by Day". Stacey Kay brings comedy to the production with her Donald Trump impersonation. She tells Lazarus "You're fired" and later asks to "see your birth certificate". Her brilliant comedic skills are also demonstrated in the story of the fatted calf. She belts out songs with a rich and powerful voice, and is certainly an audience favourite. Janelle Murray, new to this year's production, possesses a remarkable soprano voice, demonstrated in "Learn Your Lessons Well".
Jesus (Jake) and Graham perform an old soft shoe dance, and then the company joins in with magic canes in "All for the Best". Ivan Lo sings the beautiful old hymn "All Good Gifts", which opens with "We Plow the Fields and Scatter". He has a beautiful soaring tenor voice. Michael Hogeveen sings a lively "We Beseech Thee", the song that Martin Short made famous. Alessia Lupiano shines in the sultry "Turn back, O Man". Michael DeRose gives a strong performance in "Light of the World". Lisa Michelle Cornelius leads the troupe with a poignant rendition of "By My Side".
This production includes some audience participation, so if you are sitting in an aisle seat, be prepared to take part in Pictionary or charades. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a sock-puppet show, and they are reading the Good Book on iPads because we are told "Steve Jobs is in heaven now". The show is also tweaked with a few local references, such as "You put the Saint in St. Jacobs", which the audience loves.
There are lessons straight from the book of Matthew, presented in a thoughtful, entertaining way: teachings on hypocrisy (how can you see a speck of sawdust in someone else's eye, when you have a plank in your own eye), about serving money before God, worshipping fake messiahs, and being humble when performing acts of charity.
Then comes the shock of Judas' betrayal and Jesus makes his round of tearful, emotional good-byes. The show closes with a loud rock finale, and the cast sings "Long Live God", before reprising "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" and "Day by Day".
Credit goes to musical director Mark Payne and his talented band from Victoria Playhouse for the wonderful music. They even join in the singing.
Everyone is dressed in unusual costumes, some rather clownish, but very colourful and funny, the same as those on stage in the recent Broadway revival.
Energetic is the best description of this show. The young cast never falters in giving it their all. The passion and strength of each very talented cast member makes this a show not to be missed.