BWW Review: GODSPELL at The Parks Theatre

BWW Review: GODSPELL at The Parks TheatreReviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 11th May 2018.

Lydian Productions and Irregular Productions have mounted a production of Godspell, under director, Karen Sheldon, who elected to have her cast use American accents as the first performance would have done. One cannot help thinking that it could have worked just as well with the performers using their own voices, since the original languages would have been those of the Middle East and Rome, anyway.

Like the production in Sydney, a couple of years ago, Sheldon has added myriad contemporary references, particularly mentioning the current American president, Donald Trump, and the proposed huge tax handouts to the businesses by the Australian LNP government. In playing it for laughs, then, depending on your point of view, it either weakens and obscures the Christian message, or makes it more of an entertaining musical that just happens to have a religious base.

Whether you are a devout Christian, who believes that every word in the Bible is absolute truth, or you follow some other religion that has a god belief, but refuses to accept the New Testament, whether you follow a totally different religion or philosophy, or whether you fall into one of the categories of agnostic or atheist, you will have to admit that there is some great music in Godspell.

The work is based, primarily, on the Gospel of Matthew, with music by Stephen Schwartz and the spoken parts by John-Michael Tebelak, and dates from May 1971. Since then it has been performed countless times all around the world, has been made into a film, and has been adapted into a junior version. It is still as popular as ever. This production is based on the 2011 Broadway revival.

Unlike Jesus Christ Superstar, which dates from the same time, this work does not have a continuous narrative. It is a collection of parables, such as, the Good Samaritan, Lazarus, the Sower of the Seeds, and the Prodigal Son, and ends with the betrayal and crucifixion. Following tradition, Jesus thanked the audience at the interval and invited everybody to join the cast onstage to share a shot glass of communion wine.

Only two performers use the names of characters from the New Testament, with Mark Oates, as Jesus, and Joshua Angeles, as Judas Iscariot and John the Baptist. The rest of the cast use their own first names. Oates is most often found working with the State Opera of South Australia, so it hardly needs saying that his singing was superb. What is more important, though, is that he is also a very fine actor, creating a believably charismatic character and interpreting, rather than merely singing the songs. Angeles showed great potential early on, performing in youth theatre, and that potential is now being realised. His Judas is filled with power and emotion. Together, they provide a rock-solid core to the production that helps to bind all of the other performances into a coherent whole.

Harry Nguyen, Jemma Allen, Katie Packer, Maya Miller, Nick Munday, Ron Abelita, Ruby Pinkerton, and Scarlett Anthony fill the rest of the roles, each having a chance to sing an impressive solo and, collectively, providing excellent harmonies in the ensemble numbers. They also have a few fun dance numbers, with choreography by Kerry-Lynne Hauber.

This production, based on the 2011 Broadway revival, opens with the often omitted Prologue: Tower of Babble, with eight philosophers, from Socrates to L. Ron Hubbard, each espousing their point of view, voices raised, and becoming an argumentative noise, until John the Baptist appears and silences them with one of the best-known songs from the musical, Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord. Jesus the enters, leading to him singing Save the People, and then Scarlett sings the other of the two big hit songs, Day By Day.

The pace throughout is fast and the energy high, with enthusiastic performances from all of the cast members, and David Lampard's set and Brad Sax's lighting combine effectively to complete the production.

The small group of musicians: Max Garcia-Underwood and Ned Halliday, on guitars, Ryan Mifsud, on bass, and Max Ziliotto, on drums, led by musical director and conductor, Martin Cheney, on keyboards, provide an impeccable accompaniment.

The production calls for a few people to be selected from the audience during the performance, and it doesn't matter where you sit. The members of the cast don't simply take the nearest person, so sitting in mid-row towards the back is no guarantee of a safe haven. These interludes are not at all awkward or embarrassing, however, just lots of fun for those who are the chosen ones.

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From This Author Barry Lenny

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