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Godspell: Review

The Crossroads Repertory Theatre opened its summer season with Godspell. The musical is a loosely structured show with a rag tag group gathered around a Jesus figure playing the parables from Mathew and Luke. John-Michael Tebelak conceived Godspell as a critique of the conservative rigidity and lack of joy of traditional Christian services in the late 60s. It opened Off-Broadway in a production with music and new Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz in 1971. It was just four years after Hair and the same year as Jesus Christ Superstar.

In the Crossroads production directed by Arthur Feinsod the show opens in an abandoned bus station with the cast arriving in matching blue coveralls, white shirts and red ties. The program indicated that they were to play "the Tower of Babel) and indeed, they faced out toward the audience and proceeded to all speak what seemed to be different texts at once for a while. Since it was an abandoned bus station, I'm guessing that they were all former transportation company workers, unified in dress but divided by language. Shortly thereafter, they departed and returned in a variety of more or less period dress for the remainder of the show.

Following the sounding of a note blown on a watering can Michael Finchum as John the Baptist baptized each member of the cast until coming to Jason Bowen as Jesus John asked to be baptized himself. Then led by the charmingly deferent, but commanding Jason Bowen as Jesus members of the cast proceeded to sing, dance and dramatize some of those puzzling parables from the Gospels of Mathew and Luke. Pharisees, Good Samaritans, Prodigal Sons appeared and were held up as examples. Lazarus was raised from the dead. Inventive approaches were very much the rule, but joy seemed to be in short supply. As a first act finale the group united to march off singing in "sound off style" with words of advice about not throwing pearls before swine.

The second act of Godspell takes the show with the parables to the final days leading up to the crucifixion. Jesus is taunted and challenged by the judges and Pharisees. He's tempted in the wilderness and saves the woman taken in adultery. As in the first act there's a heavy emphasis that good deeds lead to eternal life in heaven and bad deeds promise eternal damnation with humanity neatly divided into sheep and goats.

The ensemble laments the Jews' Babylonian captivity of five hundred or so years ago. Jesus presides over the last supper with an echo of the traditional Hebrew blessings followed by the lines "take eat …" and "take drink…" Following the scripture, Judas kisses him. According to the Gospel of Mathew, Judas then departs and hangs himself. But in this production as the lights dimmed and the music became more frantic, it was Judas who nailed Jesus to the wall despite his anguished cries.

This and the scene of the cast tenderly embracing the body with a reprise of the show's hit "Day By Day" closed the show and the audience rose to applaud the final bows. Godspell now enters the Crossroads Repertory Theatre rotating rep.

At the theatre for you, I'm George Walker.

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