Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 1999
"Godspell" was the first show I ever saw at the Theater Barn. It was their second seaon and they were performing in a store front in downtown New Lebanon, where the Hitching Post Cafe is now (good place to catch a bite to eat, by the way.) It was a great production. And so is this.
Bottom line - "Godspell" is just a great show. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, and it makes you think. While it has outlived the 1960's flower children theme at its core, it survives because it touches the child in all of us and takes us back to a time when we were more open to new ideas and experiences. That is not a bad place to be.
If there are people reading this review who are not familiar with "Godspell" (hands up everyone who know all the words to all the songs!) it is a 1972 work conceived by John-Michael Tebelak with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, who was barely out of his teens at the time. It is a musical based on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew - godspell being an older version of the word gospel which means "good news". It casts Jesus as a hippie clown and his disciples as a group of flower children. The play takes place in an urban playground.
This show is demanding on the cast, but it is a joyful burden. "Godspell" really delivers the good news of Christ's ministry without being sacreligious. Unless you are truly deeply offended by Christianity, the show embodies messages that we could all stand to hear every now and then. Messages of love and forgiveness that are timeless, and many of which span all great world religions and are not unique to the teachings of Christ.
"Godspell" an ensemble show, with each member of the company taking the lead in different sketches and songs. The Theater Barn has assembled an energetic, talented young company - Stephen Bolte as John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot, Gary Bowman, Theresa Bruno, John Heinis as Jesus, Erika Insana, Silva Mateosian, Allen Phelps, Shane Rhoades, Kate Simses, and Maria Vee. Bolte and Heinis are perfect in their roles, Bolte possessing a powerful and beautiful singing voice. The rest of the company establish their own personalities and share their own gifts as the show goes on.
The only number that disappointed me was "Turn Back, Oh Man" which would have been a show-stopper in the hands of Mateosian with her powerful voice and comic gifts. In the hands of the young and timid Kate Simses it was a joke that didn't work. Simses wasn't able to crank up the wattage when push came to shove.
Keith Andrews has directed this ensemble well on Jay Ennis' functional set. Costume designers Guy Lee Bailey and Denise Dygert must have heaved a sigh of relief that the current Austin Powers inspired '60's revival has the stores packed to the rafters with hippie chic these days. In the oh-so-preppy '80's this show must have been a bear to costume!
"Godspell" runs through August 8 at the The Theater Barn on Route 20 just west of downtown New Lebanon, NY. The show runs exactly two hours with one intermission. For tickets and information call the box office at 518-794-8989.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999