Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: Music Takes Centerstage

Putting up a revival of a successful classical musical can be a challenge. You want to honor the original yet put your own spin on it. A recent trend in musical revivals is the attempt of updating the piece. The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess brought in a new playwright to bring dimensionality to the original characters. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever used the classic story and put a gay spin on it. Both pieces got slammed by fellow artists (Mr. Sondheim) or critics (NY Times) respectively. So how do you update a classic musical without being a complete disaster? Look at the folks over at Godspell. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it actually works. The musical is a timeless piece, yet if you tried to put the original score back on Broadway, it would bomb. So what do you do? Throw in current references, jokes, and props and make the score that reflects the modern style of music. It's a recipe for potential success.
The highlight of the new revival of Godspell is the orchestration. Michael Holland has done a phenomenal job at reinventing the sounds of Stephen Schwartz’s original music. He keeps what the audience is familiar with but puts a new spin to it. There’s no doubt that you’ll want to purchase the soundtrack after leaving the show. But there’s a more to the production than the music. And that is what leaves you wanting more. Daniel Goldstein’s direction is at times a bit static, especially in act one. The parables come off more as sketch comedy scenes. Sure, they’re beyond entertaining and the ensemble does a wonderful job, they just seem a tad disconnected from the music. If the goal of putting on a musical is entertaining the audience, then it was a major success on Goldstein’s part. I was entertained. And he has brought along a sensational ensemble with him.
The ensemble is an energetic group of youngsters who never have a dull moment in the spotlight. And believe me, each person gets their time to shine. It’s hard to pick out a standout in this group of talent, but there were some moments that were better than others. Like Uzo Aduba’s hilarious take on Donald Trump or Morgan James’s sexy “Turn Back, O Man” or Nick Blaemire’s energetic “We Beseech Thee.” And of course anything Lindsy Mendez or Telly Leung does is wonderful. Even Wallace Smith gets some fabulous stage time as the very principal character, Judas. His duet in “All for the Best” is a highlight. The most pleasantly surprising performance of the night was by Hunter Parrish as Jesus. He doesn’t have the pipes that some of his fellow actors have, but he exudes charm like no other. He speaks, you listen. His performance of “Beautiful City” is simply beautiful. Say what you will about Parrish, he’s got potential to be a bigger star.
The overall design of the production was a tad mixed. David Korin’s magical set was innovative. David Weiner did a nice job highlighting the band without becoming distracting. And of course the lighting during the pinnacle moment at the end was beautiful. Miranda Hoffman’s costumes seemed a bit wild and came from stock in a costume shop. And then there’s the band. As mentioned before, the music was tremendous and the boys in the band played it with ease.
If you’re a fan of the original incarnations of Godspell, you may be confused and disappointed with the liberties taken in the new revival. But for a first timer like myself, I couldn’t help but want more.