Godspell Final Drafts

One Comment on “Godspell Final Drafts

  1. The Bible stories re-told by the legendary musical “Godspell” are so widely known that just a phrase or a word can bring them to mind. Does The Prodigal Son ring a bell? How about the story of Lazarus? The fact that these parables are so firmly rooted in the public consciousness can be somewhat freeing for artists looking to put their own stamp on them. In a way, that potential to indulge in a bold and strange take makes Southern Connecticut State University’s production somewhat refreshing in its simplicity. It might not be the most groundbreaking staging of the show, but it certainly makes for a light and enjoyable evening of theater.

    For those unfamiliar with Godspell (as this critic was before the show), it essentially tells the story of Jesus Christ’s life and death, adapted from, well… the Bible. If you don’t know a little about that going in I can’t help you too much. The audience gets a glimpse of the messiah’s ministry as he tells stories to his friends and followers. These parables are interspersed with rock-opera style tunes spanning musical genres, from a slinky (but not too slinky) cabaret number to one song with a hip-hop tinge. Yes, Jesus does indeed rap in this version of the show.

    Hopefully, from the previous statement, it’s easy to tell that the production doesn’t take itself too seriously. The scenery and props are bright and colorful—aside from a few slightly off-color jokes, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see this presented as a children’s show. The costumes are loose and flowing, almost giving off a hippie vibe, which is accented by neon-colored hearts and peace signs painted on the performers’ faces. This association makes a great deal of sense, come to think of it. Who preached peace and love better than Jesus himself?

    Many of the musical numbers are defined by a specific prop used in the dance choreography. One that sticks out is the bright golden cheerleading pom-poms that feature in one of the show’s later songs; another musical segment is defined by the use of gloves with light-tipped fingers, which became especially dazzling when the theater lights were shut off. Not all of these “gimmicks” were successful, but the ones that worked added welcome visual spectacle to the vibrant, catchy songs.

    It should be noted that a few technical glitches popped up during the show. In one instance, the lights blacked out a couple times during a musical number (not the one with glowing-finger gloves), and another time a slight prop malfunction caused a minor hiccup. There were sporadic audio pops and other mic problems, but otherwise the sound presentation worked quite well. Even when these little problems cropped up, the performers took them in stride and kept singing and dancing without a stumble.

    Pop culture also sneaks into quite a few moments of the show, though never in an off-putting way. Jesus wears a Captain America t-shirt (a nod to His larger-than-life power?), and one of his disciples sports the Batman logo on his chest. The story of the Prodigal Son makes creative use of puppet versions of Darth Vader and Luigi of the Mario series, with the Mario theme music appearing in an especially memorable moment. The crowd reacted quite favorably to these brief references, perhaps showing that these stories can be altered and tinkered with, without necessarily making them less powerful or memorable.

    Such a relatively straightforward presentation of “Godspell” might not be the most exciting for those already familiar with the show, but for a newbie like this critic it was an enjoyably silly introduction to a production that some have seen many times over. Performed with a great deal of sincerity and gusto, the running time of the show practically flew by as the audience was taken from parable to parable and from musical style to musical style. The show may be well-worn, but Southern Connecticut State University brought the sort of palpable energy that made it feel new again.

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