Review by Justin Gilbert
GODSPELL opened on the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia stage on Friday, June 8th to a near-capacity crowd. The show is a revival of the Broadway favourite to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original. The show is the same one conceived and originally directed by Johm Michael Tebelak – based on the Gospel of Matthew, but this one has an updated score and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin). Directed by David Hogan with Assistance from Dennis Pellarin and Choreographer Adele MacKenzie. Musical Direction by Mark Payne. Set Design and Lighting Design by D2 Entertainment. Stage Manager Keely Welsh assisted by Courtney Micks.
The original Canadian production of Godspell catapulted the careers of many of our favourite Canadian stars: Victor Garber, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner just to name a few. This VPP production may well have the same effect on the careers of a few of its stars. Jake Sterns is Jesus and along with the rest of the audience, I had a chance to speak to him after the show. Jake is an 18 year old high school student from Stratford, Ontario and his poise, calm and self-confidence are unusual in one so young. The lessons Jesus teaches through the parables are close to Jake’s heart and that certainly comes through in his performance. He is incredibly real! Other notables include Stacey Bulmer, Michael DeRose, Alessia Lupiano and Alexis Gordon who has a strong, gorgeous voice and an equally strong stage presence. Rebecca MacAuley, the youngest of the ensemble, played Christine in the H. B. Beal Secondary School production of Phantom of the Opera. She has a great voice and she’s so darned cute.
The show begins rather slowly and audience members are a bit challenged to hear, understand and separate some of the narrative because of all the (deliberate) activity on stage with everyone talking at the same time, very natural when you get a crowd of excited people together all trying to have their own point of view heard above the rest. Stage Management does a good job of keeping things moving and the audience quickly becomes engrossed in the “lessons”.
The Baptism scene in which John the Baptist (Graham Parkhurst) sings “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” and baptizes cast members from a pool built into the set and a stream of water pouring down from above, is exhilarating but you can’t help but wonder how they are going to deal with all that water on stage. It becomes a simple cleanup as the cast comes out with towels and squeegies when Jesus sings “When Wilt Thou Save the People” after his own baptism by John.
The energy exhibited throughout the entire production is incredible – it can make you tired just watching. The parables and the songs are very entertaining and if you can keep up with the lyrics, there is a great deal of “tongue-in-cheek” humour in addition to the outright hilarious antics during certain scenes – “the fatted calf” being an audience favourite.
The stage set is impressive with the aforementioned “pool” which is covered up as part of the “cleanup” and you can’t even tell where it was after the Baptism scene is over. The “stained glass” backdrop with scaffold serves many purposes throughout the show. The band members sit elevated on either side of the stained glass and their contribution to the success of the show is indeed measurable. Featuring Alex Baerg on guitar and singing “On the Willows” together with Mark Payne, the band also includes Dan Baerg on drums, Mark Laidman on bass and David Clinger on electric guitar. Mark Payne is at the piano and he’s done a brilliant job with the music direction of this show. There’s even a “rap” number on “lessons of forgiveness” that you can’t help but enjoy whether or not you appreciate rap music.
Audience members are chosen to participate in “Pictionary”, “Charades” and one lucky person is chosen to portray “Lazarus” in the parable of Lazarus & the Rich Man”.
Act 1 is 75 minutes long and ends with the song “Light of the World” and the call for “Let’s drink wine”. The cast invites the audience to join in their community and share the “wine” which is actually small cups of Kool Aid distributed during intermission. Oh, and the confetti cannons are a nice touch too.
During the 45 minute second act, the group has obviously become a community around Jesus. As the inevitable ending draws near, lessons continue to be learned and the final scene certainly brought tears to many eyes even though everyone knew the story line ahead of time.
Kudos to lighting and sound technicians Catherine Soulliere and Pat Morrison for their part in making the show look and sound great, particularly the lighting of the death of Jesus.
This Godspell was unlike anything else I’ve seen and it was a courageous choice for VPP Artistic Directors David Rogers and David Hogan
If you don’t mind loud singing, lots of hustle & bustle and bright lights/colour, all of which I LOVE, you will enjoy how you are surrounded by all of these elements. I would recommend that you be sure to see Godspell at the VPP whether or not you have seen other productions elsewhere.
Tickets are available through the box office at 519-882-1221 or online at www.thevpp.ca.
Schedule: June 8th through June 24th with matinees and evening performances.
Running time: 2 hours plus one 15 minute intermission
Ticket Prices: $38 Adults, $37 Seniors, $25 Students, Family Pricing also available for Sunday matinees
Tickets Available through the box office 519-882-1221 or online at www.thevpp.ca