Book by John Michael Tebelak
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Directed by C. Kevin Swansey
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
What’s there to say about a musical like Godspell? This happy-go-lucky, hippie-infused adaptation of the Gospel of Matthew from the Bible brings about certain expectations. If you are familiar with this little musical, you expect the clown makeup, folksy songs with a peace and harmony aesthetic. This ensemble piece uses secular themes to urge its audience, regardless of religion, to love one another and sing along to the music. Totally vintage and a little dated to be sure, Godspell is a show that makes no apologies for its silliness. Otherwise, what’s the point? Clarksville Little Theater has a staged a production of this hippie love fest that brings the tender lightheartedness to the forefront.
Godspell’s roots stem from the Greenwich Village experimental theater scene in 1970. With vaudevillian shtick in brief comedic scenes interspersed with a score that teeters between Woodstock flair and hymnal solace, this free-spirited musical allows for literally anything, and the eight-member ensemble in this production fully embraces the challenge. This ensemble of seemingly anonymous strangers gels with one another with great chemistry as they create a commune aesthetic akin to an improv troupe in Haight-Ashbury. From the top of the show, when Gareth Gaddis’ beautiful rendition of “Prepare Ye” summons seemingly unassuming cast members in the audience followed by a spray bottle and loofa baptism, the stage is set for puppet shows, kooky costumes, and pantomime.
The staging is simple, the choreography is playful, and the singing is solid. As Jesus, Dakota Cotton brings gentle tones to “Save the People” and calmness to his duet with Gaddis’ John the Baptist in “All for the Best.” Where Cotton sang beautifully throughout the entire show, his interactions as the “master teacher” with this ensemble left me wanting more emotional build. He adorably pops into the play from a flower-adorned VW Bus, eagerly struts in his Superman shirt with magnitude yet he never finds the momentum to build connections with his fellow actors. I urge Cotton to savor the moments as this character to make a good performance even stronger.
As Judas/John the Baptist, Gareth Gaddis is spot on, with great enthusiasm and spunk that he evenly tones down as he moves towards the inevitable betrayal. His performance of “On the Willows” is sure to bring about some goosebumps. Dionne Burns is sassy and enigmatic with her feather boa as she struts and flirts during “Turn Back, O Man.” Greg Woods’ “All Good Gifts” is just plain lovely while Madeline Fishe’s undertaking of “Day by Day” bounces along with optimism and hope. Candace Kresse’s “Bless the Lord” and James Buckel’s “We Beseech Thee” embraces the spirit of the show. Fully present and fun, these songs exemplify how sometimes the spirit moves you to sing the song in your heart.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with a show like Godspell. This musical cannot and should not be taken too seriously otherwise the overarching message of community is lost.
May 11, 12, 18, 19, @ 8:00pm
May 13, 20 @ 2:00pm
Clarksville Little Theater
301 E Montgomery Ave
Clarksville, IN 47129-3237
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!