The Jesus will see you now
How should Jesus be portrayed in a play about his life and teachings? Should he be stern and distant? Gentle and forgiving? With a beard and a white robe?
In Godspell, a musical co-produced by the Nevada Repertory Company and the Reno Little Theater, Jesus is the kind of guy you’d want for a friend: funny, winning, playful, confident and fun. Those are also excellent descriptions of the production as a whole, which takes the teachings and parables of Jesus, as told in the Gospel of Matthew, and turns them into a very entertaining evening.
This production is set in an old hospital, where Jesus is a doctor clothed in a white lab coat who is teaching his followers—here, his nine interns—how to “heal” the sick. Against the drab, brown walls of the hospital, the interns wear vibrant red, green and blue scrubs. Jesus guides them through a series of lessons, in which the interns joyfully act out, sing and dance through the parables, while hospital announcements periodically are delivered over the loudspeaker.
While some clever production concepts have been known to fizzle and die within the first 10 minutes of a show, director Sue Klemp and musical director Damon Stevens have created a concept that remains fresh and intriguing throughout the entire performance. Not only does the hospital metaphor make a lot of sense, but it is also enjoyable to watch the company of interns transform hospital beds, pillows, stethoscopes and surgical masks into the setting and props of the different parables.
This musical is unique in its use of the idea of play as a method of teaching. Learning lessons doesn’t have to be drab and dull. Instead, Jesus guides his interns in a series of playful interactions that are silly and even clown-like, but highly effective. The interns are innocent, wide-eyed and eager to learn, but they are also flawed and have very human reactions to some of his tougher teachings. When Jesus tells them they should tear out their right eye if it offends, one intern understandably responds with, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
Godspell features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz that will keep you humming tunes as you leave the theater. The company sounds terrific during the songs, their voices blending in pleasing harmonies. The show’s famous “Day by Day” is a standout, as are the joyful “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul,” and the slower, yearning “By My Side.” Also notable is “All for the Best,” in which Jesus and Judas pull out hats and canes and dance and sing in vaudevillian style.
As Jesus, Domenic Procaccini II is both a firm teacher and a warm friend to the interns. He creates a deeply personal, individualized connection to each of them, and it is intriguing to watch these relationships develop over the course of the performance.
The company of interns uses their whole bodies to transform themselves into the different characters and settings of the parables. To make each parable memorable, they pull ideas from an endless bag of tricks, thereby keeping the scenes fresh and highly energized throughout.
On the whole, Godspell offers audiences a lively, lighthearted interpretation of the story of Jesus.