Godspell is 46 years old this year, and you’d think it would be showing its age – yet it still remains relevant and joyful. A looser story of Jesus than Jesus Christ Superstar, concentrating more on the apostles and how they were affected by his presence in their life, the musical retains both the childlike wonder of the early parts of the story and the gravitas of how it ends, with the magic and hope that the resurrection brings.
Based mainly on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Godspell has Jesus (Zach Zaromatidis) sharing his teachings and parables with nine men and women, representing his apostles. They act out the various stories with props and costumes and sing and play instruments for the songs. As the play proceeds, Judas’s (Andrew Pace) role becomes apparent and he must betray his teacher to the authorities who fear Jesus’s growing power with the people. The apostles watch as Jesus is crucified, then armed with the teachings he has given them, go out into the world to share what they have learned.
This version of the show is based on the 2011-2012 Broadway revival, which was somewhat updated for a modern audience – Jesus is no longer a clown but a bit of a hipster; the apostles aren’t as hippie-ish as they used to be, but still retain some of that outsider flair; some parables are no longer in existence while others are presented in different ways; some songs are given a different flavor than in the original Broadway recording (although I don’t quite love putting a country and western spin on half of “All for the Best,” I’m all for innovation and updating a show that’s almost half a century old).
The group director Trey Compton has gathered for the production is strong and work together well; a production of Godspell won’t work unless the actors are believably a tribe, and happily, these actors are. Zaromatidis has a rich voice and charisma to spare – I can’t imagine making the choice to cast him as Jesus was a hard one. Pace’s Judas truly hits his stride near the end of the show; his interactions with Zaromatidis once the decision has been made to betray this man he loves and admires so fully are deeply emotional. The women stand out amongst the apostles; Katherine McLellan’s take on “By My Side” was heartbreaking; Liane Zielinski’s “Day by Day” had an openness to it that made it truly shine and Megan Koumis’s stage presence was compelling. The ensemble’s work together on the finale was absolutely beautiful; their harmonies through their tears brought more than one audience member to tears themselves.
The world hasn’t been such a shiny, happy place lately; no matter your religious affiliation (or lack thereof), we can all agree that “love your neighbor as yourself” could solve a lot of our current problems. The optimism in this production truly shines forth, and no matter who we are, we could all use a little more of that.
“Godspell – 2012,” The Theatre Barn, 654 State Route 20, New Lebanon, through August 20, $27-$25, Run time: 2 hours and 5 minutes with a 15-minute intermission, www.thetheatrebarn.org