There’s something jubilant about GODSPELL playing through next weekend at Xavier University. It won’t go down as the greatest theatrical production of the year (or even the week) but I didn’t expect it that. Instead, I hoped for a well told story and some enthusiastic young talent. That’s exactly what I got.
Based on the Gospel of Matthew, the musical features an ensemble of folks acting out the parables, followed by Judas’s betrayal, and ultimately Jesus’s fate as Savior of the world. There’s a lot of room in the script for ad libs, contemporary updates, and a lot of fun extracurriculars on stage. Director Dee Anne Bryll has freed her cast to play a little and the show is better for it. There’s audience participation, pop culture references (including a line about very recent Amanda Bynes’ DUI), and college kids enjoying each other’s company. They were having fun and I really enjoyed myself.
Some of the singing could use some work; some of the dancing is awkward. It’s not a perfect show, but there’s a lot of great things to celebrate. The tech – all student driven – is sensational. Alice Trent’s lighting is on point and I really loved the costumes. Every character’s dress is distinct and modern, thanks to Kathleen Rossmann’s costume design. The band, led by musical director Scott Buzza, supports the singing well with only a couple of moments where they overpowered the singing. And some of the performances were as good as they get. Maya Farhat is Xavier’s superstar and she shows why again here with her vocal chops and professional stage presence. Ellen C. Godbey’s solo wowed me in Act Two. Tyler Ferrari had a fun Don Corleone take as the father of the Prodigal Son. Aaron Krick has a nice voice, as do several others in the ensemble. The best part of the cast may be the way they interacted with each other; you get the sense that under Bryll’s direction (and probably Theatre Department head Stephen Skiles, too) that these students genuinely like one another and work well as a unit.
The most important part of any theatrical experience for me is the emotional connection; I can tell you that I teared up a lot as Judas’s betrayal first became evident. Something about the way Brandon Langjhar’s “Jesus” presented this information to the group got to me.
GODSPELL is a classic show; this updated version is worth seeing even if you’ve seen the show before. The music is catchy but mostly Xavier’s production is exuberant . . . just the way the story of Jesus and his followers SHOULD be.
Xavier University Theatre will continue GODSPELL again through October 25th in the Gallagher Student Center Theatre. Tickets and more information are available here.