Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Godspell
Clague Playhouse
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of Love Never Dies


The cast of Godspell
Photo Courtesy of Clague Playhouse
Godspell is probably one of the most often produced shows in the country if not the world. Thus, we see it through the eyes and minds of whichever local theater has decided to bring it to stage. It is a musical that can be easily expanded to the highest degree of grandeur (much like Hair, which preceded it by a few years) or it can be stripped down to its barest elements.

Thankfully, the Clague Playhouse has opted for the latter. Godspell works best as an intimate show that illustrates the simple teachings of Jesus Christ. It is a series of acted out parables that emphasize his life. In the Clague Playhouse production (the 2012 revised version) there is a very basic set, costumes that are the type that everyday young people would be seen wearing, and Jesus is decked out in a Los Angeles Angels baseball jersey. Everything is kept low key for a reason: so the message of the show and the singing talents of the cast can best be illustrated. Even the "orchestra" is low-key, consisting of David Bird on piano and keyboard and Ryan McDermott on guitars.

The ancient world is in turmoil as people argue religious philosophies and doctrine. Onto the scene comes John the Baptist (Isaiah Blue) who prepares the way for Jesus (Rick Dawson) who arrives for his baptism. Thus begins Christ's ministry as he teaches a simple message of love, compassion, tolerance, and the proper way to worship God.

The seven people ensemble (Michelle Cha, Kiara Durbin, Noah Furin, Kara Mincik, Amber Revelt, Nick Salazar, and Michael Stolar) take on the roles of the various apostles, investigators, and characters from the various parables that Jesus teaches to illustrate his lessons. There is quite an emotional shift from the first act to the second, as Christ's early ministry changes over to his arrest and crucifixion, but the show ends on a hopeful note with his resurrection and momentary return to his apostles.

There are a number of factors that make this particular production well worth seeing. The musical itself is well written (book by John-Michael Tebelak), with a variety of catchy songs (score by Stephen Schwartz) that make a good point. And this cast, in spite of their youth, is really good. The harmonies are spot on and the solo numbers really showcase each member's individual talent. Also, as mentioned before, is the simplicity that allows full attention be given to the singing, the acting, and the little adlibs the cast does in order to break down the fourth wall. You really have to pay attention to get all the little snippets of humor but it is worth the effort.

As Jesus, Rick Dawson does a terrific job, showing him as a caring individual who genuinely loves people without being preachy about it. Isaiah Blue does double duty as John the Baptist and Judas, giving a clear and distinct face to each demanding role. Combined with the other seven members of the cast they offer up sweet harmonies.

Remembering that sometimes less is more, Clague Playhouse has put together a simple yet elegant version of Godspell that captivates and entertains. In this season of bitter cold weather, this is a show that will warm your heart.

The Clague Playhouse production of Godspell runs through February 4, 2018, at 1371 Clague Rd, Westlake OH. Tickets may be purchased online at clagueplayhouse.org or by calling (440) 331-0403.


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