FAIRFIELD — Sunday School was never quite like this.
Missouri Street Theatre’s current triumphant production of “Godspell” tells the story of Jesus Christ, specifically his teachings using parables, then his crucifixion and resurrection.
Instead of storytelling flannelgraphs on easels and memory verses, however, they use rock and roll coupled with humorous and poignant performances from a ridiculously talented cast.
The show opened off-Broadway in 1971 and was kick-started a couple of years ago with a revival. The new orchestrations are more contemporary and just give the whole show more bite, punch and oomph.
The thing that really came across on opening night was just how completely “on” the entire cast was. The synergistic energy they emitted was heightened by the fact that the audience was enraptured and we knew that they knew they were killin’ it. The entire show was electric and insanely great.
The cast was obviously well-prepared and their considerable talents had been sharpened to a razor point by director Scott Woodard. The choreography by Staci Arriaga was crisp, fierce, playful and perfect. The singing was, well, heavenly.
The story was told using minimal sets (designed by Woodard), colorful costumes (Gina Coyle) and lots of panache and personality from the cast. The parables include Lazarus and the Rich Man, The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan. Numerous methods were used to convey the stories, most of them absolutely hysterical and yet true to the text in the bible.
The cast consists of 13 very talented performers, about half of whom I have seen and enjoyed in local productions and the rest I hope to see in many more. In addition to their individual gifts, as a unit they exuded the camaraderie that “Godspell” demands.
Michael Scott Wells as Jesus cut a commanding empathetic and magnetic presence on the Downtown Theatre stage. I had the opportunity to see him work his magic at the Red Carpet Gala a few weeks ago and bringing such a tricky role to life in such an engaging way was a treat to behold.
Anthony Lucido as Judas exploded onto local stages with Fairfield Civic Theatre’s “Lend Me a Tenor” last year and his acting/singing ability matched with the acrobatic physicality he possesses makes me wonder if there is anything he can’t do. He even drew headshots of the entire cast for the program.
I continue to be the unofficial President of the Miranda Lawson Fan Club. She blew the doors off singing “Bless the Lord” and her timing and comic sensibilities are impeccable.
Courtney McAllister nailed the soulful “Learn Your Lessons.”
Danielle DeBow Severns lent her angelic voice to the most well-known “Godspell” song “Day By Day.”
Ethan Bell had me dying as the Jester in “Once Upon a Mattress” last December and was brilliant in this show performing one of my favorite songs “We Beseech Thee.”
Both the constraints of space and also not wanting to spoil the fun for other theatergoers prevent me from listing highlights from all of the cast members. However they (Kirk Bakken, Erik Catalan, Christina Gross, Robin Murray, Kirstin Pieschke, Christina Rae and Hilary Wells) each shone individually and were divine collectively.
The band, featuring Maggie Hollinbeck (musical director and keyboardist), Michael LaPlante (lead guitarist), Abe Newman (second guitarist), Colin McCuen (bassist), and Oliver Graham (drummer), was versatile, super-tight and rocked the house.
After the intermission, Hollinbeck and Lawson performed a soul-drenched duet of “Learn Your Lessons Well (reprise)” that had jaws dropping all over the theater. At the song’s conclusion, they high-fived as we applauded wildly.
“Godspell” is a beautifully compelling show that will entertain and touch the most evangelical of Christians, the staunchest of atheists and everyone in between.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected].
four stars out of four