By Patrick B. McGuigan
CityRep and the University of Central Oklahoma’s Department of Musical Theatre collaborated for the recent presentation of “Godspell” at the downtown Civic Center, delivering a superb reinterpretation of a popular Twentieth Century folk rock musical.
As both John the Baptist and Judas, Jamard Richardson brought authority, confident story-telling and a rich masculine voice to the immortal story. From the signature tune, “Prepare Ye” to the show closer and essential moments of narrative, Richardson delivered the goods – and the Good News.
Lane Fields, as Jesus, was professional and effective throughout. His interactions with Richardson – including in the vaudeville-like “All the Best” – were among highlights of the performance.
Sarah Johnson, as the woman caught in the act of adultery, who is saved from stoning by the Savior’s tenderness, renders the best ballad in the show, “By My Side.”
Lexi Windsor’s “Learn your lessons well” was a fine presentation of one of the story’s most unusual songs – clarifying that there are core doctrines interwoven with the love and gentleness emphasized through most of the story.
Other standouts included Chelsea (Nikki) Clark’s “Day by Day” (and her reprise of “learn your lessons during intermission) and the entertaining song of prayer, and “We Beseech Thee” from Cody Dent and the company.
Jordan DeBose was a dominant presence on-stage, bringing Act I to a soaring close with “Light of the World.” Like Richardson, he frequently filled the role of narrator, including for the western-themed rendition of the Prodigal Son. Caleb Baze’s interpretation of “All Good Gifts” was memorable.
Rounding out the steller troupe were superb supporting cast members: Dia Janae Baker, JaLeese Beavers, Ashton Cleer, Chelsea Larsen, Vahn Phollurxa and Michael Stewart. The Pharisees, in painful dialogue with Jesus, were portrayed by Phoebe Butts, Garrett Haley and Larz Hoban.
Near the end, “Beautiful City” pushed the story onto its summit. Lane’s Jesus, in the music and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz, described a place within reach, but not yet built. Images of builders, and rebuilders, are powerful in Scripture and served this story well. One could imagine the new Pope Francis, in the footsteps of the saint of Assisi, smiling as the story led us to reach for something better here and now, with peaceful confidence of the hereafter.
As Jesus dies, he is “nailed” to a cyclone fence, a powerful image in our own beautiful city, evocative of the tender mercies that have continued to flow since the events of April 1995.
Charles Koslowske directed the superb band of Bear Rodriguez, Brandon Cink, Derun Zhang, Clinton Trench and Patrick Womack.
Director Jonathan Beck Reed made deft use of the entire Freede Little Theatre. Performers came and went – memorably after the death of Jesus on the cross – along the aisles and the stage skirt, with one exit serving as additional pathway.
Performers put to good use the middle “ring” of the circus at center stage in designer Amanda Foust’s vision, heavily ramped to allow performers in the back to be clearly seen. Sound quality was excellent throughout, with clear audio delivery from the most enthusiastic veteran to the most gently-delivered words and notes of every cast member.
A vibrant curtain-call reprise of “Day by Day” ended the proceedings after disguised (and resurrected) Jesus wandered onto back into the proceedings as a stage hand – another way the director might make us think about the times we might see, in the words of a contemporary song, “Jesus in disguise.” The audience sang along and the performers, after co-equal bows and waves, departed casually as the band played on.
For the years of its originally release, the story of Godspell served magnificently as a hip but more orthodox alternative to “Jesus Christ Superstar,” with entire pages of dialogue (minus ad-libs) drawn straight from the Gospel of Matthew.
In this version, directed by the multi-talented Jonathan Beck Reed, the musical gained a new lease on life.
“On the Willows,” the powerful lament adapted from powerful laments during the Jewish exile in Babylon, placed the story square in the center of Christian tradition, with tribute to its Jewish roots as a modernistic, quiet “last Supper” was interpreted within the proscenium frame of the Civic Center stage.
A fine collaboration between the professionals of CityRep and the vibrant youths of UCO, “Godspell” was a glorious kickoff for the twelfth season of the Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre.
With feet on the ground and hopeful eyes, CityRep’s ‘Godspell’ reached for Heaven
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