What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home.
Back up to heaven all alone, just trying to make his way home.
— Joan Osborne song “One of Us,” with lyrics by Eric Bazilian —
Raleigh, NC-based Theatre in the Park did a bit of genius programming by scheduling Godspell 2012 during the Easter season. Based on the Gospel According to Matthew, with the central character Jesus of Nazareth, there is no getting around the fact that Godspell is a Christian show.
A theater student with leanings toward the Episcopal ministry, playwright and author John-Michael Tebelak, attended a joyless Easter Vigil (Holy Saturday) service in 1970, which inspired him to create a purposefully joyful show “to weave God’s spell over the audience.” With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Wicked), a href=”https://www.facebook.com/events/801894816818482/”>Godspell at TIP is sure to please.
Local actor/director Jesse R. Gephart, known for his performance as Raleigh humorist “David” and “Crumpet the Elf” in TIP’s annual presentation of The SantaLand Diaries, has assembled a talented cast and crew for this production. Choreographer Aya Wallace, who recently choreographed Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, has again created dances of pure joy; and music director Diane Cashwell Petteway has woven a musical spell with this group of top-notch singers and musicians.
The Ensemble is “pick-of-the-litter” local musical-theater talent: Nehemiah Lawson as Jesus and Freddy Perkins as John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot, plus (in alphabetical order) Karen-Leigh Allen, Lauren Bamford, Aubrey Comperatore, Brian Fisher, Rebekah Holland, Morgan Parpan, Ben Pluska, and Brett Williams.
As the audience enters the performance space, The Ensemble is already on stage, costumed in thrift-store-hippy-clown attire, playing cards, chatting, and lounging about what appears to be an abandoned warehouse. The TIP technical team has added some notable touches to the set — including a functioning old water fountain, construction scaffolding, old wooden pallets, and rusty metal staircases — items all used artfully in the staging of the musical numbers.
In previous amateur productions I have attended, the show begins with John the Baptist heralding “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” That’s because many productions have taken out the opening song “Tower of Babble,” because of its difficulty. But this is a cast of Singers with a capital “S,” and it was a real treat to experience this number.
Act I contains several popular songs and the opening-night audience (April 12th) would occasionally sing along. “Day by Day” and “All Good Gifts” are songs that local churches often incorporate into their worship services and are especially beloved. An Act I highlight was Brett Williams (as “Jo”) and her ukulele, in a duet with Nehemiah Lawson (as Jesus) in “Light of the World.”
There is a strong break in mood between Act I (Jesus’ ministry) and Act II (Jesus’ passion), and Nehemiah Lawson’s performance as Jesus in the second act is passionate and riveting. Freddy Perkins interprets Judas as not necessarily the Bad Guy, but the Guy Who Took Action. Judas’ actions literally acknowledge Jesus’ power, which he believes, at least some of the time, is dangerous to society. Both Lawson and Perkins allow us to see that conflict clearly.
Lighting designer Matt Artigues has considered each musical number carefully and individually in a way that beautifully matches its tone and purpose. Newly-hired TIP staff member Abigail Kuchar has designed a set that functions well and tells a story.
Good for you, Theatre in the Park, for hiring a woman as your assistant technical director. Keep it up. Local theater benefits from having women placed in key production positions outside of the traditional female ones: costumes, choreography, office jobs, children’s theater, and “women’s plays.”
Theatre in the Park’s cavern-like flex space works great for straight plays, but can be challenging for musicals. Sound designer Eric Collins has expertly augmented the vocals and band, making the all-important lyrics understandable almost all of the time without being too loud. The show’s staging favors Sections 1 and 2 of the audience, so when purchasing a ticket, I recommend avoiding Section 3 if you can. (Click here and scroll down for a seating chart.)
Even though parts of the 2012 revised version of Godspell have been re-orchestrated in this authorized new version, officially updated by Stephen Schwartz himself, it is still Godspell to me. Like me, the show is aging. It was first performed in 1971, 48 years ago, and it probably needed a thorough updating.
But whatever is new melds seamlessly with what is old. And “Beautiful City,” written for the 1972 film version, has been around plenty long enough to fit right in. The music, under Diane Pettaway’s strong direction, does not sound dated. The show still brims with the exuberance and strong belief that the world can and will be changed by the younger generation.
SECOND OPINION: April 7th Cary, NC RDU on Stage interview with Lauren Gunderson, author of The Godspell Experience, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/podcast/podcast-ep-15-the-godspell-experience-with-carol-de-giere/.
Theatre in the Park presents GODSPELL 2012 (revised version) at 7:30 p.m. April 13, 3 p.m. April 14, 7:30 p.m. April 18-20, 3 p.m. April 21, 7:30 p.m. April 26 and 27, and 3 p.m. April 28 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $33 ($27 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 919-831-6058 or https://theatreinthepark.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S1K00000GVBYLUA5.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6058 or http://theatreinthepark.com/whatson/group-sales.
SHOW: https://www.theatreinthepark.com/whats-on/godspell.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/801894816818482/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=7nQoppEISZs.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/, https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh, https://twitter.com/TheatreInPark, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_in_the_Park.
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair/walker accessible, and large-print playbills are usually available.
Godspell (1971 Off-Broadway, 1971 London, and 1976 Broadway musical): https://www.godspell.com/ (official website), https://www.stephenschwartz.com/works/godspell/ (StephenSchwartz.com), https://www.stephenschwartz.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Godspell_Frequently_Asked_Questions.pdf (Godspell FAQ from StephenSchwartz), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/1207 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/godspell-3961 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godspell (Wikipedia).
Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics): https://www.stephenschwartz.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/8447 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/stephen-schwartz-12375 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0777451/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Schwartz_(composer) (Wikipedia).
John Michael Tebelak (book, 1949-85): http://www.musicalschwartz.com/godspell-tebelak.htm (MusicalSchwartz), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/9990 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/john-michael-tebelak-6923 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0853659/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John-Michael_Tebelak (Wikipedia).
Godspell (1973 film): http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/27853/Godspell/ (Turner Classic Movies page), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070121/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godspell_(film) (Wikipedia).
Godspell 2012 (revised 2012 musical): https://www.godspell.com/ (official website), https://www.stephenschwartz.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Godspell_Frequently_Asked_Questions.pdf (Godspell FAQ from StephenSchwartz), https://www.mtishows.com/godspell-2012 (Music Theatre International), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/godspell-490436 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godspell#2011:_Broadway_revival (Wikipedia).
2012 Study Guide: http://broadwayeducators.com/godspell/ (BroadwayEducators.com).
Jesse R. Gephart (Raleigh, NC director): https://jessegephart.com/ (official website), http://www.abouttheartists.com/artists/394495-jesse-gephart (AboutTheArtists bio), and https://www.facebook.com/jesgep/ (Facebook page).