Godspell is best left in the '70s. Exposed to a modern audience, the musical seems naively, if not revoltingly, soaked in "free love." There's little dramatic arc and zero character development in its cut-and-paste presentation of Bible parables, and even Stephen Schwartz's once-loved music has taken a beating with time, now more pop ballad than dramatic device. The script is like a bad flashback to a time when tie-dye was groovy and any musical without a linear plot was a la mode.
Yet Theater 1010 did everything possible to resurrect the musical that put the Gospel of St. Matthew on top-ten radio, with mixed success. Director David Fuller wisely modernized the cast from a nondescript pack of clowns to a collage of modern archetypes: grad student, socialite, indie rocker, custodian - even Jesus was replaced by a stockbroker. There were references to "frapuccino" and Microsoft, not to mention half-second parodies of Presidents Bush and Clinton. Employing a plethora of performance styles and techniques, including mime, dance, and puppeteering, Fuller's staging was fresh and exuberant at every turn. The cast functioned as a true ensemble, yet each member brought his own personality and astounding solo voice to the mix. Robert Armstrong led the bunch with a winning smile as the stockbroker/Jesus, and his duet with Richard Rowan on "All for the Best" brought down the house. Janel Jarosz's mellow voice and acoustic guitar proved a winning combination on "By My Side," and Lynn McNutt's soulful rendition of "Learn Your Lessons Well" opened the second act with vigor.
But ultimately the production tried to do too much with too little and destroyed any sense of subtlety in the process. On company numbers, the cast sang to the fourth wall with the raised chins and glazed-over eyes so often criticized about musical theatre, and Carol Sundquist's choreography approached every gesture with literal interpretations that soon became heavy-handed. After all, the happy ending can seem too happy.
Erich Rausch's musical direction was tight and accurate, and his two-piece orchestration was a perfect match to the scale of this production. But the dynamics lacked variety, and with only five rows of chairs in the house, there's no reason to conclude each number at a fortissimo.
As always, Theater 1010 delivered impressive technical designs, including a modular set by Si Joong Yoon and an intricate lighting design by Izzy Einsidler that employed texture for heightened effect. Lynn Marie Macy's costumes were simple and unobtrusive without using so much as a single scrap of tie-dye.
Fuller made the most of a show weighed down by an outdated and inherently undramatic script. It would be an enjoyable outing for the family or anyone who occasionally hums "Day by Day" on the way to work.
Also featuring Darcie Bender, Jonathan Butler, Philip Chaffin, Judith Jarosz, Lynn Marie Macy, and Ruben Ramos.
Musical Directing: 1
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Copyright 1998 Andrew Eggert