Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Godspell: Prozac Jesus & the ADHD Apostles

I am a little late to this party.  And actually, let's be honest, it's not my party.   I only saw Godspell once before, performed in high school by a community theater.  The new version on Broadway is updated to make it more relevant.  It definitely needed some updating.  But I might argue it just shouldn't have been revived (lock it in a box with the Ark of the Covenant store it in a government warehouse never to be opened again).  I just could not get on board.  Others might be able to get swept up in the general sugary enthusiasm and upbeat youthful cast but Debbie Downer, Mildly Bitter, wanted more substance.

At some point I felt like I was at a Christian retreat where they are trying to convince you that Jesus's teachings are totes relevant to kids today by speaking the kids know with cell phones and shit. (Am I the only one who had to go on those retreats in high school?  Sigh).   I think my problem with the show was that it is a terrible terrible piece of source material and no matter how many trampolines you put on stage it's still Jesus telling parables on stage...with props to an amorphous group of acolytes.  This production is staged in an inventive way and everyone in the cast is super-enthusiastic.  Jesus is so happy he could only be on Prozac (I mean even Jesus knows where this is going.  He can't be happy all the time 'cause this is gonna end in crucifixion...even if that means everlasting life in the worlds to come, he's still getting crucified.  Even he knows this is a bit of a bummer). 

The cast is buoyant and bouncy (even without the trampolines which they employ in a creative fashion for one upbeat dance number). I was excited to see Lindsay Mendez who has a great voice and can really belt out notes.  She was a delight as always.  Telly Leung sounded great even if they dressed him like a clown.  I was most puzzled by the costuming.  It was not King Lear bad but for updating and relevance I was wondering why poor Morgan James had to wear 17th century bloomers with her sporty long sleeve T-shirt.  The costuming did not help give shape to the ensemble as characters.  I know they are supposed to be just a rag-tag group of followers but who the hell are these people who don't know how to dress?  They aren't modern hipsters.  They aren't even modern hippies.  I guess clownish-circus-y-brightly colored-ADHD kids.  That's the best I could come up with.  There were definitely moments where this felt like Hunter Parrish's Jesus was the preschool teacher to a classroom full of wriggling 4 year old students.  These would be the costuming choices of 4 year olds. 

I happen to dislike the generalized ensemble.  Are you too busy ripping off--err being inspired by-- the Bible to write some fully formed characters?  What gives?  Are you just too busy working on the complex musical structure of Day by Day?  Sorry.  I hate a show without any actual characters. The only characters are Jesus--handsome, smiling, wearing his underwear.  Then there is John--baptizing, check.  Then there is John also playing Judas--crucifying.  There is about 30 minutes of legitimate drama in the show at the end.  Things start to come together a bit when you have Jesus contemplating his fate, Judas being identified as the betrayer.  But it's too little too late for me.  I'm a narrative junkie and this show is a little lite on narrative arcs, character development and dramatic impact.

Hunter Parrish sounded generally good (except for an awful number near the end-- I think it was Alas for You.  I could not hear a word of the song).  He's pretty and does a perfectly fine job here smiling and being the peppy ring-leader or pre-school teacher.  Wallace Smith was a powerful John/Judas.  But he's not given a whole lot to do.  There are some lovely song renditions: Beautiful City and By My Side.  But it's just not enough.  The cast and production deserves an A for effort but for me the source material was so dreadful everything made me cringe and roll my eyes.  Just not a show for me.*

*I also hated Wicked. Maybe Stephen Schwartz and I were not meant to see eye to eye.  It happens.  Mildly Bitter on her musical theater island with Sondheim songs playing on a loop.  

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