Godspell at Artistry in Bloomington
Godspell is another of those shows everyone knows and I’m embarrassed to admit I had never seen before. Well, I’ve seen it now and after a rocky start I really came to enjoy it. The first song in the musical is “Tower of Babble” which is exactly what it sounded like. It’s a song with nearly every member of the cast sings different parts simultaneously, couldn’t distinguish one voice from another and was really struggling to make sense of what was being sung and happening. I think a listen to a cast album ahead of time might have been helpful. After the first song, things got better and Act II vastly improved when I moved from my rear stage right seats to empty center of the row seats. Let that be a lesson to you, if you are planning on attending choose your seats carefully, it made quite a difference. From the second song on it was very clear that there were some excellent vocalists in the house, by the end of the show it was clear they were all excellent vocalists. The wonderful thing is, essentially every performer gets a solo, when that’s the case you have to cast the best, and Artistry certainly has.
Jamison, brings a quality of serenity to the role, you can sense his joy in teaching his message, he seems above it all, but also completely a part of everything and everyone.
Godspell was first performed Off-Broadway in 1971, the same year Jesus Christ Superstar, the combination of which may be responsible for the Christian Rock genre, but don’t hold that against either of these landmark shows. The show is created as being conceived and directed originally by John-Michael Tebelak with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. For a show over 50 years old, I was surprised at some of the lines but suspect someone has done a little tinkering with the script since it’s debut. The story is a series of parables taught by Jesus to his disciples as we also trace Jesus’s journey to the cross. It’s the sort of religious show that nonreligious people can be comfortable with, as it teaches the lessons of love and treating each other with understanding and charity. Thus, it’s also the kind of religious show that causes controversy with religious types as it seems to completely side step their core beliefs revolving around zombies and hate crimes. None of that Jesus intolerance here, just the love thy neighbor stuff, so pretty blasphemous. If you’re not religious but do believe in spreading the message of love and being good to each other, don’t let the title or plot turn you off.
Since every cast member gets a moment to shine and they are all brilliant I’m just going to highlight a few performers that had a moment or two that really thrilled me. From the moment the second song began “Prepare Ye” featuring Jordan Leggett as John the Baptist, and later in the show as Judas, my hopes soared, having him enter from the back of the theater created a moment that drew us to him and his song. It was followed by the appearance of Jesus played by John Jamison II singing “Save the People”. At that point, I knew if I never fully understood all the lyrics when the entire cast sang together, I’d still have an evening to remember. Jamison, brings a quality of serenity to the role, you can sense his joy in teaching his message, he seems above it all, but also completely a part of everything and everyone. Other highlights include what my wife refers to as one of her All is Calm boys, Ben Dutcher, who as always wowed with his vocal gifts. The showstopper song belongs to Wariboko Semenitari singing “By My Side”, wow, just wow!
The production was directed by Vanessa Brooke Agnes with musical direction by Bradley Beahen. Agnes does a wonderful job of staging the action, frequently using the auditorium for exits and entrances or just to have the character walk through. It’s particularly well used in the song Turn Back, O Man, which features Grace Hillmyer trying to be the center of attention even chasing the spotlight – part of Lighting Designer Kyia Britts cheeky contributions. Beahen gets the great sound we’re used to at Artistry from his band, and even gets a little moment to sing and perform, which was a nice little touch. I enjoyed Kyle Weiler’s choreography, there’s some really good group moments that seemed perfectly aligned to draw our focus to a specific character or space on stage. The scenic design by Katie Edwards was a little bit of a mixed bag. I didn’t love it or dislike it, I was sort of confused by it. The setting is clearly not biblical times, but when is it? It looks like a cross between a 1970’s era talk show with the band on stage, mixed with the Brady Bunch house and the Bronx.
Godspell runs through August 13th at Artistry in Bloomington. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://artistrymn.org/godspell
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Photo credit: Tommy Sar
Rob is a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers and their podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat as well as a syndicating contributor to Minnesota Playlist. Read all his content www.thestagesofmn.com