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a Musical
by John Michael Tebelak (book) & Stephen Schwartz (songs)

COMPANY : New London Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Hello Again Variety Mall [WEBSITE]
ID# 5027

SHOWING : January 20, 2017 - February 05, 2017



A small group of people help Jesus Christ tell different parables by using a wide variety of games, storytelling techniques and hefty doses of comic timing. An eclectic blend of songs, ranging in style from pop to vaudeville, is employed as the story of Jesus’ life dances across the stage. Dissolving hauntingly into the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, Jesus’ messages of kindness, tolerance and love come vibrantly to life.

Director Scott Piehler
Jeffrey Lucien Lockhart
Jesus Joe Simpson
John the Baptist/Judas Dalton Titshaw
Gilmer Marie Violette
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Prepare Ye
by playgoer
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
"Godspell" is not my favorite musical. The book’s first act seems to me to be a jumble of parables that inevitably fall flat, even in the face of cast shenanigans to bring them to theatrical life. The second act has a more cogent storyline, but its focus on the last days of Christ’s life tends to the somber. It’s the songs that carry the show. That is, if they’re sung well.

At New London Theatre, the songs don’t help the show at all. "Prepare Ye" and "On the Willows" can be ravishingly beautiful, but not when they’re warbled off-pitch as they are here. Musical director Jean Bongiorno may not have had much raw talent to work with, but the end result is almost uniformly dreadful, with harmonies consistently flat. The exception is the first two numbers in the second act, which sound pretty good overall. No men sing in these selections, which seems to let the better voices in the cast prevail.

Director Scott Piehler sets the action on a trash-strewn stage, with a couple of distressed store sale banners posted on the back wall. Three low platforms are arrayed across the wide playing area, with the trash mostly confined to their perimeters. The ensemble members enter wearing choir robes, but soon discard them to appear in the wild, colorful garb typically associated with "Godspell." Lights occasionally change colors for effect, adding to the visual overload as action spills across the stage.

The generally wacky ensemble members (the effervescent Madi Bhey, the jovial Lucien Lockhart, the animated Jackson Greene, the statuesque Susan Kelsey, the perky Marie Violette, the bouncy Rebecca Rhodes, the sultry Beverly Harvey, and the pretty Catherine Gunn) are joined by Jesus (Joe Simpson) and John the Baptist (Dalton Titshaw, later taking on the role of Judas). Mr. Simpson is very low-key and soft-spoken, which tends to make him fade into the background instead of appearing as a counterpart to the more raucous ensemble. Mr. Titshaw has stage presence and dancing skills, but generally acts as an additional member of the ensemble.

With voices as marginal as many of those in the cast, Alexis Ruby’s energetic choreography is anything but a boon. Even the best voices sound winded after a choreographed number has gone on for a while. There are clever touches in the production, particularly some nice puppets, but they can’t overcome the overall feeling of a show drenched in flop sweat. Name tag lanyards are issued to the ensemble as their cell phones are confiscated at the start of the show (a clever directorial touch in concept, if not in execution). But is it intentional that they usually flip to the blank back side, preventing easy identification of individuals? [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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