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BWW Reviews: Worthington Community Theatre Does Worthy Version of GODSPELL


Columbus' oldest community theater, Worthington Community Theatre seems the fitting arena to take on one of the most quintessential surely-you-have-seen-it musicals with Stephen Schwartz' "Godspell". However, it's a production that leaves many a theater group in a quandary- the songs are familiar and audiences eat them up, but the production has been done so many times, in so many ways, that a director must choose to do the show in its classic sense and risk boring repetitiveness, or develop some new, modernized interpretation that loses the classical appeal. WCT walks the midline with its choice, as Director Joe Cherubino elects to keep the show itself rather low-key and tame, not the neo-funk Broadway Revival tone at all, while retrofitting the setting to that of a toystore, with the cast of characters taking their personas from classic children's toys such as Barbie, Raggedy Ann, Crayola Crayons, cowboys, and puppets.

While "Godspell", when it began in 1971, was trendsetting in its hippie-flower child presentation of Jesus, the reason it is so popular of a show lies largely in its "feel good" simplicity and its boundless energy, both of which WCT earnestly attempted. The script has always lacked content, not withstanding its basis in the Good Book, it is essentially a Cliff Notes version of The Book of Matthew, strung together in song. The setting is never defined, though most often, it is performed as a band of traveling clowns in a circus-style act, or homeless people performing sermons on the streets, and I tend to favor those approaches, though I found the toy store concept intriguing. I particularly liked the inclusion of dog tag necklaces given by toy soldier Jesus to each of his "disciples", which created a sort of MIA, visual image that was powerful.

The set (designed by JefF Brown) is simple, not particularly artistic, but functional, consisting of a giant jack-in-the-box, a closet-sized box of crayons, several platforms disguised as board games, and large wooden alphabet blocks. The production also benefits from the delightfully perfect acoustics of the McConnell Arts Center. The four person band accompaniment consisting of guitar (Alex Schrock), Bass (Will Stickler), Drums (David Counterman), and Keyboard (Jody Hepp), is well-balanced, but seated on-stage, which I found distracting to the performance.

The cast is diverse, and with few exceptions, much to the traditional physicality of most "Godspell" productions. Jesus (played by Garret Parsons), is the typical toned, blonde pretty face usually sought for the role, this time clad in army fatigues as a toy soldier. Parsons sings well enough, but is largely static in expression, and not particularly emotive. "Alas for You" was almost devoid of energy, when usually, the song shows the begin of the downfall of not only Jesus, but his followers in bitter disappointment.

His betrayer, Judas, (played by Brad Johnson) is far stronger in stage presence, particularly when the show darkens drastically in tone during Act II, as he does a superb job with the anguish of Judas' betrayal. Unfortunately, Johnson could scarcely be heard in "All For The Best", his voice so restrained that he was virtually inaudible for much of the song (song key difficulties perhaps?), while he obviously has the singing chops as evidenced by the powerful "On The Willows".

The ensemble had moments of glorious harmony, but largely maintained as a cast of individuals singing at the same time. Raggedy Annie (Annie Kalinoski) is one of the largest personalities on stage, great when in the spotlight, but overwhelming during ensemble scenes. Kalinoski's upper register is unfortunately thin on "Learn Your Lessons Well", but when the song drops in key towards the end of the song, she sings beautifully in a lower range belt. This was a complaint for me also with Eric King's character, Eric The Puppet' on "Light of The World", in which the poor man was forced to sing in a key so high that he was practically falsetto, however in ensemble numbers, he could clearly be heard to have a lovely lower register. It would have made more sense to transpose to a lower key, or switch of the casting to better reflect the actors' appropriate vocal ranges.

The best supporting performance of the evening went to Eli Brickey as Ballerina Eli, for her delightfully subtle, though engaging, stage presence, and an absolutely flawless version of the song that has to bring down the house, "O Bless the Lord". It was so refreshing to hear that number done true-to-its-original intent and delightfully well. Additionally, Raggedy Nick (played by Nicholas van Atta) was charismatic and delivered a nice version of "All Good Gifts", while Fashion Doll Carole (Carole Luley) also did justice with "By My Side", though the presentation was more soft and sentimental than entreating. "Turn Back, O Man" was soulful and sultry in tone as sung by Princess Hannah (Hannah Berry), with the delivery rather reserved and mild for such a typically vampy number. Cowboy Greg (Greg Zunkiewicz) and Baby Doll Ashley (Ashley Robbe) both play more subtle characters that blended well into the ensemble and had nicely understated, but pleasant vocal performances.

The "philosophers", in this presentation craftily depicted as Crayola Crayons (Pink- Taylor Waldron, Lime- Robbie Markus, Green- Alec Brown, Blue- Halle Kaler Roberts, Orange- Megan Gehrlich, Red- Kyle Marler, Yellow- Dale Griffey, and Purple- Sierra Getz) were great for adding robustness, energy, and harmony to the group numbers. Kudos to Red Crayon, Kyle Marler, who lost his guitar strap during the Act II opening guitar solo, and hammed it up with the audience in true "Godspell" fashion while fixing the strap issue, engaging throughout like a pro.

This production was one of the most reserved versions of the show I've seen, however. There were very few, strategically placed, audience participation spots, which were fun, humorous, and well-done, but the audience was largely ignored otherwise. I enjoy "Godspell' best with a giant "kumbah-Yahweh" bible school summer sing-along feel, noticeably absent from this production. The choreography (by Shabonne Grimm) was minimal- simplified greatly on "Prepare Ye the Way of The Lord", as well as "All For The Best", typically two high-energy, fast-paced numbers. I am accustomed to the rowdy, party-town energy of a 'Godspell' cast, while this production managed the "Best Behaved Sunday School Class" award, and I must admit that I missed the rapid-fire engagement and bouncy dance numbers typically seen.

Though peppered with humorous attempts at timely references to Amanda Bynes' legal woes, Justin Bieber, and Carnival Cruise mishaps, Worthington Community Theatre puts on a fun, light version of a classic musical that remains campy, homespun, and true to its original form. You'll love its familiarity, the refreshing appeal of a bunch of young performers who have obviously worked very hard and have fair amount of talent, and leave feeling like you've seen a good show in a beautiful venue. Enough for "Godspell" to endure as one of the most popular musicals to be produced, and for Worthington Community Theatre to keep its audiences' spirits lifted up from seeing their production.

Worthington Community Theatre's "Godspell" runs July 19- August 4 with show times on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm at the McConnell Arts Center at 777 Evening Street, Worthington, 43085. For tickets and additional information, please go to:

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From This Author Lisa Norris

Lisa grew up participating in community theater groups such as Cincinnati Young People's Theater (CYPT) in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, both in front of and behind (read more...)