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BWW Review: GODSPELL's Enigmatic Ensemble Shines at Theatre Baton Rouge

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Production runs through November 21

BWW Review: GODSPELL's Enigmatic Ensemble Shines at Theatre Baton Rouge You only had to hear and see the standing ovation that greeted the curtain call for GODSPELL at Theatre Baton Rouge last Thursday to see what a gift Clay Donaldson has for bringing an ensemble together to have audiences clapping and cheering. It's a creation of joy in a time when we all could use a little.
GODSPELL was the first major musical theatre offering from three-time Grammy and Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz, and it continues to captivate audiences to this day. With such international hits as "Day by Day," GODSPELL features a blending of songs ranging from pop to vaudeville as the story of Jesus' life is told across the stage.
GODSPELL focuses on a small group of people who help Jesus tell different parables by using games, storytelling, and a hefty dose of comedy to bring Jesus' messages of kindness and love to vibrant life. The story dissolves hauntingly into the Last Supper and the Crucifixion with an underlying message of hope at the end that the word of God lives on.
Directed by Clay Donaldson, GODSPELL features a contemporary Baton Rouge setting with current event references to keep things timely while still aiming for audiences to latch onto Jesus's teachings. GODSPELL is TBR's first musical production since February 2020 after the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, which brought a deep sense of joy to both cast and audience to have a sense of normalcy once more.

BWW Review: GODSPELL's Enigmatic Ensemble Shines at Theatre Baton Rouge
Austin Ventura as Jesus

Starring as Jesus, Austin Ventura's rendition of the central role was soulful yet playful. His talent provided different emotional levels, creating a grounded humanity to such an iconic figure in history. Ventura leads an ensemble cast ripe with energy and humor to offer up a fun experience, whether you are religious or not.
The ensemble of 12 depicted multiple characters who pivoted from role to role with relative comedic ease to keep the parables rolling along. Sometimes one becomes a wanton woman, while others may be a master or a servant. Sometimes they're sheep. They're great singers and dancers all the time.
It's always a treat for this critic to clearly see the different characters and their personalities that were built during the rehearsal process. Coming together as a developed ensemble is a true theatre masterwork that always needs to be recognized and TBR has a gift for it.
As both John the Baptist and Judas, Ren Price plays the demanding roles with emotional strength, whether from the joy of baptizing Jesus or shame at betraying him.

BWW Review: GODSPELL's Enigmatic Ensemble Shines at Theatre Baton Rouge
Ren Price as John the Baptist/Judas

The well-known songs of GODSPELL, accompanied by the familiar parables, are both comforting and enlightening. While the costumes and jokes may change, the invoked feelings remain the same. In this production, the haunting "By My Side" is heavenly delivered by Jaime Leonard Brubaker, while the old-time favorite "Day by Day" featured Kendall Berry with charming sincerity.
In "Bless the Lord," Victoria Clement is exuberant and, as always, a faultless entertainer. Rebecca Smith's vocal capacity always warrants applause, especially during her saucy rendition of "Turn Back, O Man."
Kenneth Mayfield's spare set design seemingly was built to merely accommodate the six-piece orchestra, which felt underwhelming at first until the climax of the show utilized it. No spoilers, but the imagery is very haunting, especially with Mayfield's lighting design supporting it.
No matter your faith, you'll have an entertaining, moving, and thought-provoking time at the theatre with GODSPELL.
GODSPELL runs now through Nov. 21 at Theatre Baton Rouge. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25-$35. Masks and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test are required. For tickets or more information, call (225) 924-6496 or visit theatrebr.org.


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