BWW Review: GODSPELL at Theatre In The Park At Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center
"Godspell " performing at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center
"Godspell", the 1971 musical by John Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz, now showing at the new Theatre in the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, is a festive spiritual romp to launch the initial fall season for Theatre in the Park. For the opening show in the flexible new theater space, the audience has 360° viewing thanks to theater-in-the-round seating. The lighting and sound have some interesting fresh touches that provide adequate viewing and allow the instrumental musicians to be live from a separate space. That this worked so well was surprising considering the coordination required through cameras and sound system to keep the orchestra and on-stage singers together, and is a credit to Music Director Delano Mendoza. Set design was simple, yet offered a constantly evolving space that changed from scene to scene. Well-choreographed numbers (by Mindy Moritz) add much to the vitality of the production
This revival interpretation of the Gospel of Matthew recreates the sense of spiritual community inspired by Jesus and his early followers. Tinged with comedic sketches that retell the parables of the New Testament the show opens with a cacophony of philosophical voices recounting humanity's reach for philosophical understanding. The bewildering "tower of Babel" number underscores the confusion that has for centuries separated humankind from any relation from God. The pre-enlightened playfully dressed (Arwen White - Costume Designer) bohemian apostles embrace the counter-culture "Christianity" as they implore all to "Prepare Ye" the way of the Lord. This revival is filled with a stream of contemporary references (including some local) that provide some comedic shtick, but never quite reach up to making a connection with the ongoing spiritual commentary of the show. Yet, the musicianship of the ensemble and their energetic youthful exuberance have them laughing, singing and dancing their way into the hearts of the audience even if the spiritual aspects of the show are less clear.
Kyle Hyde (Jesus) leads the merry band into self-discovery and the true meaning of love. Hyde's voice fits the role well and he performs with clarity while occasionally holding back a bit. Pete Kuhn (John the Baptist/Judas) has the tough job of taking on "Prepare Ye", one of the most well remembered songs of the show, and he does it confidently with a fine vocal interpretation. Weston Thomas (Nick) and Ken Koval (George) each shine in their solo moments and provide much of the core energy of the group, however, Matthew Robison (Telly) was one of the best surprises of the night. Robison's rendition of All Good Gifts highlighted his range and proved him to be an actor who is just beginning to flourish.
The women in the show proved they were not to be outdone by the talented men of the ensemble. Pancha Brown (Anna Maria), Erica Punch (Celisse), and Lindsay Day (Lindsay) each led off the women with powerful solo numbers ("Day by Day, Bless The Lord, and Learn Your Lessons Well") in which they show proficient vocal skill. Particularly impressive was the musicality each of them exhibited by effectively utilizing dynamics to bring each song to life. Rounding out the second half, Sydney Normile (Morgan) and Lindsay Chandler (Uzo) proved there was not a weak link in the chain. Their strength vocally was matched with acting that elevated the show by providing a mastery of variety. It is not often a company is blessed with a balance of talent like this and it bodes well for future shows that there exists this abundance of local talent from which to draw.
The show's message of love and acceptance eventually coalesces and culminates as the crucifixion scene is staged. The strength of some of the second-act songs ensures the message is not lost in the string of earlier comedic moments.
"Godspell" is Johnson County's "Theatre in the Park" expansion of its usual summer season to a new indoor venue at the Arts & Heritage Center 8788 Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park, KS. GODSPELL runs October 6-22, 2017 and tickets are available at THEATREINTHEPARK.ORG
Photographs courtesy of Theatre in the Park