Cabaret’s production of ‘70s musical Godspell easy summertime fare
What is it Reverend Lovejoy states in that episode of TV’s The Simpsons where he describes his initial arrival in Springfield?
As near as one can remember, it is this:
“It was the ‘70s,” Lovejoy muses, with his usual dry, liturgical delivery. “The ‘60s were over, and people were ready to start feeling bad about themselves again.”
That’s just about right.
The early 1970s were awash with Christian revivalism, albeit a kind of nebulous Christianity. Traveling pop-gospel shows, riverside full-immersion baptisms and an easy-going interpretation of the sacred text (initially, anyway) were practically everywhere. And popular culture reflected the trend as well: Consider all the Top 40 hits that preached, however gently, across the airwaves: “Put Your Hand in the Hand,” “Jesus Is Just Alright,” George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (although he did sneak a few of his Hindu divinities into the backing vocals) and, most ironic of all, “One Toke Over the Line"—seemingly, a pot song smirking behind cleverly placed Christian phrases, notably, “Sweet Mary” and “Sweet Jesus.”
And Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “rock opera” Jesus Christ Superstar hit stages in 1970, essentially paving the way for this 1973 musical, Stephen Schwartz’ Godspell. Loosely based on the New Testament’s Gospel According to St. Matthew, Schwartz’ musical combined a benign hippie subculture as depicted in Hair! with the fundamental Christ tale. Colorful clothes, colorful characters and colorful pop melodies.
On those scores, Chico Cabaret hits the right notes with its latest production.
Against a set suggestive of an urban construction zone, director Brian S. Holderman has assembled a lively little show with a competent, mostly youthful cast of actors, singers and dancers.
Among the standout performers was young Stephanie Williams as Robin. She brought a lot of personality to her character and sang the Grammy-winning “Day by Day” quite beautifully. Also very good was Lily Lauer as Joanne, who played many of the souls populating Jesus’ parables. Lauer brought a good sense of body language to the various characters, suggesting pride, shame and so on with an effective economy of gesture. And, as Jesus, Beau Scarbrough possessed an appropriately warm, gentle quality.
Among the older actors, Marc Edson was effective in top hat and tails as a barking John the Baptist; Edson also portrayed Judas. Strangely, the latter character comes off as somehow sympathetic here. Somebody has to betray Christ, and Judas gets pegged. Edson conveys palpable regret, even reluctance, at what he must do.
The choreography by Sheree Henning makes great use of the confines of the stage, the dancers forming alternating rows across the space. Costumes were a curious mix of periods, everything from pseudo ancient to 1800s to now. And the live band was terrific.
In many respects, it is the music most of all that carries the show. And although at times Schwartz’ arrangements, combined with Holderman’s “engage the audience” blocking, makes one think of Up With People meets the Living Theatre (but gently), overall, this is an enjoyable show. Easy on the eyes, easy on the ears and easy on the preaching.
Perfect summertime fare.
And, oh yeah, there’s a colorful crucifixion.