BWW Review: GODSPEED the Rock Opera Brings Scripture to Life Onstage at El Portal
Written and produced by Sammy Oriti as his passion project, GODSPEED is an original work that began to form many years ago after he retired from his 1980's career as a Bruce Springsteen impersonator. After three years of touring the East Coast and only 90 days of settling into Los Angeles to pursue the Hollywood dream, Oriti found God and turned his talents toward heaven. With just one phone call to Brad Boeckmann, of the Boekmann family who owns Galpin Ford, Oriti met with and presented his vision to Boeckmann who personally funded the recordings currently available free on the GODSPEED website: http://godspeedrockopera.com/
The religious rock opera is composed lyrically from scripture without deviating from the holy text. The production is presented live on stage complete with a six-piece progressive band, cast of 22 actors, and digital projections that assist in bringing key characters of the New Testament to the stage in song and dance. The result is a powerful combination of visual and musical performances.
What is truly amazing - a miracle really - is the entire production began rehearsals (including learning the music as well as staging) on August 13 and opened on August 21. That this ensemble, directed and choreographed by the talented powerhouse Jeffrey Polk, was able to put the rock opera together in just over a week is astounding, given the incredible rock band and talented singers who harmonize so beautifully that you would think they had been working on the show for months. Add in the big rock stage show lighting fit for a large arena, and the resulting show is sure to appeal to all who believe in the power of faith with a real dash of musical flash.
John Bisaha, lead singer and bassist for the rock group The Babys, leads the cast with a heavenly glow as Jesus, his love of performing a joy to behold. Other standouts include Terrance Spencer's incredible dancing as the wicked Serpent, Jules Sanchez whose overwhelming physicality as Caiphias and Satan command the stage, and self-taught musician Jeff Lyons as the tormented Pontius Pilate. Dionne Gibson can certainly belt out a song from the depths of her soul as the standout "Sinful Woman" soloist, but I would have preferred seeing more of her character presented as she wowed the audience with her voice.
There were a few elements lacking which I am sure was due to the quick production schedule. While the women were all in simple peasant costumes, most of the ensemble men were dressed in all different types of stage blacks, including many wearing tennis shoes which I found incredibly distracting from the Biblical era. This was the most apparent during the rocking out, leather jacket clad Pharisees trio numbers, even though they were some of the most entertaining in the show.
Certainly this passion project reflects Sammy Oriti's 25 year struggle to bring the rock opera to fruition, sharing his deep inner faith with everyone involved. The aura of spirituality emanating from the cast and production team was even more uplifting than the well known story being presented onstage.
Obvious comparisons to "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Godspell" will occur, and the music in those two shows certainly is more memorable. But there is a lot to be said for listening to those who created a project speak to their joy and devotion to it that will set GODSPEED apart from the rest.
GODSPEED is a theatrical stage production in the style of a rock opera, complete with singers and dancers portraying in song the gospel of Jesus Christ through Biblical characters including: Adam, Eve, Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, and more. The show premiered August 21 - 23, 2015 with performances taking place at The El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood's Noho Arts District. Hopefully this rock opera will continue to be presented to those needing a spiritual lift set to a rocking beat.