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BWW Review: GODSPELL is a Timeless Tale With Unique Staging, and Full of Music to Set Your Soul on Fire at Eight O'Clock Theatre

This cast is Exceptional!

BWW Review: GODSPELL is a Timeless Tale With Unique Staging, and Full of Music to Set Your Soul on Fire at Eight O'Clock Theatre

Every so often we in the Theatre-going community find a show or two that "makes its rounds" so to speak within the area. Godspell happens to be one of those shows. Having been done numerous times, a show that could be considered timeless, can also pose the question, "how are they going to make it stand out from all the others?" The folks at Eight O'Clock Theatre have managed to answer this question ten-fold with their most recent take on the Behemoth Musical by one Stephen Schwartz. Set in a reminiscent-like "tent city" in modern time we meet John the Baptist, Jesus,and his "Players" or folks yearning to hear the teachings of the Son of God. Through 17 musical numbers accompanied by a live band, nine uniquely different performers dressed in modern fare take the stage in an almost traveling-minstrel troupe set out to tell the story. One distinct difference is this "tent city" is in the heart of Tampa, complete with a skyline showing the towers of University of Tampa and the sign that hangs above the Tampa Theatre. An open concept stage with an almost concert like feel, we are transported not only into the world of the players, but also a world maybe not so different from that which we could experience if only in particular sides of the city. With graffiti emblazoned on the walls and a mural of Jesus memorialized in black light the lights dimmed and the story began.

John the Baptist played by Bianca Rotonda is dressed in boots and army style pants with exposed tattoos, plays a horn at the top of the show...almost a sort of "call to arms" or to summon the people. "Prepare Ye" began a little on the timid side, and was not the strongest call to the will of the people, but as the song progressed it gained momentum and we were along for the ride. Bianca's turn as Judas later in the show is something of a marvel and a great juxtaposition to her John the Baptist.

Soon we meet Jesus played by Troy Reamsnyder, who though smaller in stature has moments of great delivery. Dressing from undergarments into his clothing right in front of our eyes and moving into a rendition of "Save the People" was almost watching him embody the man he was to become. Though it started out a little weaker in delivery on this first number, I took that as a character choice and his move to step into his own. Once he embraced whom he was to become there was nothing stopping him and Troy should be proud of his work here. Jesus is a harder role to tackle and he delivered ten-fold.

The players filling in the rest of this mostly sung-through musical consist of some of the strongest area performers. Lisa Prieto, Katie Voorhees, and Katie Michaels get the award for standouts of the night. Katie Voorhees pulled the audience right along with her and every note she sang. Her stunning work on "Day by Day" is beautifully mastered and I could listen to it all day. Later in Act 2 she plays guitar and its a great addition. Lisa Prieto and Katie Michaels duet on "By My Side" have some incredibly rich harmonies which each lady should be proud of. This production has moments of vocal-masterclass. There is a moment during "All Good Gifts" where the cast does sign-language in the number and the effect is beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. Michael Cote and Michael Sporck make hilarious turns in a few moments of the show, and Michael Cote's "We Beseech Thee" is a toe-tapping good time. Shannon Wright's vocal delivery during "Learn Your Lessons Well" was a knockout and beautifully delivered. The Jazzy "Turn Back, O Man" was a great number and the soloist Kiara Dorothea could sing almost anything. Making up an ensemble that gels together so well but is uniquely their own at the same time can be hard, but this group of Players, Disciples, what have you; create a blended family that cohesively delivers on every level, and the cast should be exceptionally proud.

Technically sound this production is beautifully done. Dalton Hamilton's lighting design is down right beautiful. His set design down to the Jesus mural is contemporary and raw in all the right ways and from top to bottom it works here and lends well to the world of the show. Deborah Lastinger's costumes are contemporary and simple in a way that is not distracting but at the same time allows each performer to embrace their character in the world in which they have been given. The Band lead by Jason Tucker as I mentioned before had moments where they slightly overpowered the singers but was a nice addition to the show. Im not certain if that was a mic issue or overall acoustics, but moments later that thought passed like a fleeting memory as I dove deeper into the plight of the characters. I personally loved the moment in which the band played "On the Willows" which was sung by Jason Tucker, it was a beautiful moment, and I enjoyed the band's interaction. The few moments of Choreography were enjoyable all though the "Fosse" moment in Act 2 had me scratching my head. Director Maria Gerakios steered a tight ship full steam ahead, and this quick but never too fast two-hour tale was pleasure to watch, and had everyone singing along in their seats to the familiar tunes.

All in all the fine folks at Eight O'Clock Theatre should commend themselves on a job-well done on this often-staged Behemoth of musical theatre. For they accomplished something with this production... it was unique in every aspect and a different take on this piece. Eight O' Clock is one of the Top-Tier Community Theatre options in the area, and always makes their stamp on the Professional-Level Quality that they deliver ten-fold. One caveat is this production had two omissions from what I assumed was going to be the Revival Version most recently done on Broadway with Hunter Parrish. I was missing great numbers such as "Tower of Babble," and "Beautiful City." I can only imagine the beautiful vocals in which Troy could have lent to both of these songs. So if you, like I, happen to be expecting the Revival rendition those two numbers are not in this production. I will say this though, Native Floridians and "Transplants" who now call Florida home will find that this production much like Tampa are a "Beautiful City" all their own, and it just goes to show you that, "If you build it they will come." Few tickets remain for this otherwise sold out run and the folks over at Eight O'Clock Theatre have created a magical night of live theatre that anyone will find joy in, and for that I am thankful to have witnessed something unique, beautiful and ultimately timeless when we need it more than ever. Brava!

Photo Credit: Picture This

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