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BWW Review: GODSPELL at Musicals At Richter

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BWW Review: GODSPELL at Musicals At Richter

On Saturday, July 24th, I had the pleasure of returning to Musicals at Richter, in Danbury, to see the absolute greatest performance of GODSPELL that I have ever seen!

This Stephen Schwartz musical with book by John-Michael Tebelak allows creativity and originality to every theater group that performs it. Musicals at Richter maximizes this freedom with numerous comedic references to a myriad of musicals, movies, television shows, and songs! I greatly enjoy this outdoor venue which enhances every production at Musicals at Richter, and found it particularly fitting for a musical such as this one, since Jesus was outdoors when He shared many of the parables referenced in this show.

Director/Choreographer Bradford Blake combines with Musical Director Peter Randazzo and Executive Director Robert Bria to bring out the best in this highly talented cast. Led by Billy Hicks as Jesus, and Kyle Riedinger as both John the Baptist and Judas, this stellar ensemble cast includes Renee Browne, Samantha LaMendola, Victor Garry Roldan, Kevin Sayour, Daisy Stott, Zach Theis, Tori Vacca, and Sarah vonEgypt, all of whom play themselves, but in the context of multiple established roles, all of which they all played well. The stage chemistry and dynamics between this cast are strong, with positive energy that radiates throughout the audience, the cast truly enjoying their roles with great acting, singing, and synchronized dancing. It is clear that a lot of effort and cooperation was shown by all. Every one of these cast members shined both individually and as a group. I highly recommend all the aforementioned performers to casting directors everywhere, as they all showed themselves to be versatile, multi-talented team players who enjoy their acting, are willing to go that extra mile, and keep the audience entertained from start to finish, a particularly impressive feat in a show such as GODSPELL, where the majority of the cast is present on stage for the majority of the show.

Accompanying the cast is an incredibly talented orchestra, off stage left, including Peter Randazzo on piano, Henryk Kress on guitar, Don Hurta on bass, and Bob Kogut on drums.

The fourth wall is broken both in terms of cast member direct interaction with the orchestra, and two audience members being called up on stage. Many of the entrances and exits are made through the audience, down the center aisle.

The first act is a dramatization of many of the parables and teachings of Jesus, portrayed in a sometimes serious and other times comical, yet generally reverent manner. The second act involves the Pharisee attempts to trip up Jesus in His words, the Last Supper, the agony at the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Crucifixion. The content of what is presented through word and song is generally true to the Scriptures, sometimes verbatim, and with the central message generally remaining the same when comical poetic license is added, which happens quite often. The artistic choice is made to place the Temptation in the Desert at the same time as the Agony in the Garden, perhaps to depict the similar spiritual warfare Jesus confronted and defeated in both situations. The Resurrection is not mentioned in the show.

There is a wide range of musical styles present in this musical, and they all work so well. The opening number "Prologue/Tower of Babble," depicts many different scattered philosophies, paving the way for the energy level to be elevated on "Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord," as John the Baptist makes his entrance. Billy Hicks is showcased as Jesus, starting with the uplifting number "Save The People." Renee Browne shines on "Day by Day," which has a soulful gospel sound. Tori Vacca and Sarah vonEgypt have their talents showcased on the upbeat jazzy numbers "Learn Your Lessons Well," and "O, Bless the Lord My Soul," respectively. The song with the most traditional showtunes feel to it is "All for the Best" which showcases the coordinated singing and dancing talents of Billy Hicks and Kyle Riedinger. Zach Theis is showcased on a moving performance of "All Good Gifts," which has a Catholic Novus Ordo (Post Vatican II) hymn feel to it. Kevin Sayour is showcased on "Light of the World" which has a late 1960s acid rock vibe to it. Zach Theis and Kevin Sayour provide some comedic intermission entertainment that includes a reprise of "Learn Your Lessons Well." Samantha LaMendola opens the second act in an attention-grabbing way, entering down the center aisle with a powerful rendition of "Turn Back, O Man," a song with a 1950s female lounge singer vibe. Daisy Stott and Tori Vacca provide excellent harmony on the folk rock number "By My Side," which has traditionally been my favorite musical number from this musical. Victor Garry Roldan has his talent showcased on the upbeat "We Beseech Thee." "On the Willows" remains another of my favorites as this slow, but powerful number is enhanced by the emotional stage action of Jesus hugging each apostle individually after the Last Supper. "The Finale," during the Crucifixion showcases Billy Hicks, again, while the music triggers vibes of the Who, Queen, and Pink Floyd, really showcasing Henryk Kress' impressive guitar playing.

I really like the way this musical offers many of Jesus' lessons in a format (music, dancing, and comedy) that, by God's grace, may reach many people who had not otherwise been reached by traditional religious ways. The overarching messages of love, forgiveness, and trust in God's truth shine forth and can inspire many, by God's grace. I highly recommend GODSPELL which is scheduled to continue to run through August 7th, 2021. For times and tickets, please go to tickets.


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