Artistic Director Ted Wioncek III puts his trust in his cast creating a rousing rendition of a Schwartz favorite. Eagle’s GODSPELL transforms this popular flower- powered faith musical to an energized clever catechism lesson of Christ’s teaching. The cast of this relentlessly perky production of the 1971 musical turns parables from the Gospels into a series of musical teaching moments. They virtually never stops bopping, bouncing, bounding, climbing on arched steel sets across the stage and zooming up the aisles of the theater. It’s like being trapped in a Play-O-Rama with a bunch of super talented adult/children.
Conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak and featuring a tuneful score by Stephen Schwartz, “Godspell” was a monster hit when it opened Off Broadway 40+ years ago, running more than 2,000 performances and later being turned into a syrupy movie with a young Victor Garber as Jesus in 1973.
Eagle’s sets by Chris Miller and Ted Wioneck is a big part of the success of this production. A large center stage consisting of elevated wood planks places the audience on either side of the nonstop action. Director Wioncek gives this witty cast carte blanche banking on their talent and comedic timing…and it works!
Sal Pavia plays Christ– in-a-hoodie as the pacing preacher, pleasantly disciplining his would-be disciples while serving as the MC/ host of this production. In addition Pavia is responsible for the frenzied choreography. The parables appear to be almost totally improvisational theatre at its best, though I know Wioncek’s hand was at the helm of the action. Several cultural and modern references are blurted out, much to the audience’s delight. Pavia’s cut and thrust action with fellow Eagle favorite Tim Rinehart is a great counterpart. Rinehart’s snarky, straight man strategy that he does so well, steals scenes nicely. The talented Will Connel, Rajeer Alford and Justin Mazzella solo spots are equally entertaining. Did I mention that every cast member plays an instrument, some learning songs for the first time for this production? The ladies are just as gifted; the violin playing Abigail Allwein, Guitar playing Maggie-Griffin Smith. Finishing out the talented cast are Cailene Kilcoyne, Loulu Luzi and Kimberly Suskind. All offer wonderful stand alone performances as well.
Schwartz found artistic success with his Old Testament musical, Children of Eden, and stunning popular success with Wicked. Yet the music of Godspell transcends into a super-genre sound with such favorites as “Prepare Ye” and “Day by Day” both solid standards, and the turbulent “All for the Best” is almost as well known. From the enlightening “Learn Your Lessons Well” to the gospel-tinged “Bless the Lord” to the serenely haunting finale “Beautiful City,” this is a score that finds faith anywhere and everywhere it can. Eagle’s triumphant performance is delightfully satisfying for all Godspell fans.
GODSPELL plays at the Eagle Theatre, Hammonton NJ. on selected dates through December 11 For tickets and more information visit www.theeagletheatre.com or call 609.704.5012
Photos by Chris Miller