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Review: GODSPELL at Palm Canyon Theatre

Review: GODSPELL at Palm Canyon Theatre

Stephen Schwarz Classic Bursting With Energy

Stephen Schwartz's 1971 musical Godspell was part of a movement during the late 60's and 70's of the reinvention of theatre norms. The movement paralleled the hippies, free love, rock bands with classical orchestras, artists such as Andy Warhol, and a host of writers. It was a period of re-examination and re-thinking of our ways of doing things, especially in the arts. Godspell is one of the most enduring works of this period, presenting Jesus as a dude in a tee shirt, addressing modern day folks in a playground.

Many musicals are based on a book, but Godspell is unusual because it is based on The Bible, primarily the New Testament's Book of Matthew. The "re-inventiveness" is that the structure of the show is that eight non-biblical characters meet Jesus on a modern-day playground. Through song and speech, Jesus teaches them the parables and other lessons about lovingly living together. There is no through-line plot or even an antagonist. Just nice people lovingly sharing thoughts about good living. It's the kind of show that puts a 2-hour smile on your face.

For Palm Canyon Theatre's current production, director Richard Marlow, set designer Toby Griffin, and costume designer Derik Shopinski have retained the early-70's setting which is harmonious with the musical styles. Because audiences of a certain age have known songs from this show such as "Day by Day," "Prepare Ye," and "A Beautiful City" for five decades, the look of the show harkens back to the period where we first heard those memorable songs, and modernization would have been jolting.

In the 1971 stage production and 1973 film, the eight non-biblical characters were of varying adult ages. For the PCT production, Marlow has skewed towards late teens through 20's for his cast and that choice is consistent with his delivery style of powerhouse enthusiasm, energy, and joy.

Leading the troupe is Noah Arce as Jesus. This young thespian has appeared at most of the theatres in the Valley. He is tall, good looking, sings well, acts even better, and plays guitar onstage. And did I mention that he is good looking? He exhibits a glowing charm and a never-wavering smile that would easily cause disciples to follow him.

Also outstanding is Raul Valenzuela (another Valley favorite) who doubles as John the Baptist and Judas. Singing, dancing, acting and energy make him a joy to watch and listen to. Another enjoyable soloist was Jonathan Calderon (at least I think it was Jonathan - the characters don't refer to each other by names). He not only dazzled with his solo "All Good Gifts," but he usually had principal positions in the dance numbers, often paired with choreographer Marella Sabio. And speaking of Marella, she had a perfect approach to the folksy "Day by Day" in addition to designing the lively dance sequences.

One of the delights of the production was a twist added by Marlow. Early in the show, one of the company members hands a Superman tee shirt to a lanky 12-year-old boy, Everett Nickolopoulous. The boy puts the shirt on and then through a little theatrical legerdemain, he transforms into Noah Arce, the young adult Jesus. We remember that Jesus first showed signs of being special when he was 12, then we didn't hear much from him until he was 30. This young actor continues to appear on stage, moving sets and handing props to other actors. He then sings alongside the grown Jesus near the end of the show and his voice and comfort center stage show great promise. Fortunately, he has been accepted into the Valley's prestigious Music Theatre University next year.

Musical Direction was by Jaci Davis who conducts from the piano. When I walk into a theatre and see her at the piano, I breath a sigh of relief. I know everything musical is going to go smoothly. She is accompanied by David Bronson on drums and Bill Saitta on bass.

Godspell runs for only one more weekend, July 14 - 17. Thursday is at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $36 for adults, $32 seniors, and $15 for students. In fact, if you have kids or grandkids, this would be an excellent production to treat them to; a tuneful engaging life lesson.

Season tickets for PCT's exciting 26th season are available on their website as well as dates for the scheduled productions. For tickets, sponsorship opportunities, or other information, call the PCT Box Office at (760)323-5123 or order online at www.PalmCanyonTheatre.org. Palm Canyon Theatre is located at 538 North Palm Canyon Drive, at the corner of Alejo Road and Palm Canyon Drive. Box Office hours are currently Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.




From This Author - Stan Jenson

STAN JENSON has been acting for 58 years since his high school debut at the age of 14. In those ensuing years, he has appeared in several hundred productions across the United States and Australia ... (read more about this author)


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