Thursday, 27 October 2016

Godspell Reimagined, Oct 26, 2016 ***

Music & new Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak
Produced by Simon Myers and Glenn Elston 
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until Nov 6, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: *** 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thurs Oct 27, 2016. KH
 Colleen Hewett
 The golden rule for Godspell Reimagined is that thou shalt have Colleen Hewett in your finale.

Hewett’s appearance for the last 10 minutes of Glenn Elston’s production of this rock musical elevates this cheerful, entertaining but only intermittently satisfying show to another level, and any flaws in the earlier scenes are forgiven.

With her smoky, coffee-coloured tones, Hewett enters singing Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord, then leads the ensemble with her impassioned and professional rendition of Day By Day, the song that she sang in the original Australian Godspell in 1972.

Michel Tebelak conceived and directed the original, 1970s Godspell, basing the narrative and dialogue on the Gospel of St. Matthew and depicting the story of Jesus as he teaches through parables, suffers betrayal by Judas then dies on the cross.

Godspell Reimagined features Stephen Schwartz’s fervent music and new lyrics, but Elston has reduced the company from eight actors and four or more musicians to a total ensemble of eight.

Schwarz’s songs are the highlight, including the rousing Prepare Ye and the moving Day By Day, the kooky, vaudevillian tune All For The Best, the celebratory You Are The Light of the World, the rocking We Beseech You and the sweet, folksy number, By My Side (by Peggy Gordon, Jay Hamburger).

Although this scaled down production is engaging and the cast are capable singers and musicians, the acting is uneven, the voices are tuneful but not exceptional, and the production lacks the passion, youthful exuberance and compelling tragedy of the Godspell we know and love.

The broad slapstick, improvisational comedy and topical references are often entertaining – the interpretive dance of anger during the Prodigal Son parable is hilarious – but many of the company lack the requisite comedic delivery and timing to make this entirely successful.

The production might benefit from more complex choreography (Sue-Ellen Shook) and more layered musical arrangements (Lucy O’Brien).

Act Two abandons most of the comic interplay and concentrates more successfully on Judas’s betrayal of Jesus and the impending tragedy of Jesus’s Passion and Crucifixion.

Mark Dickinson has a strong presence both in the ensemble and as the traitor, Judas, while Christopher Southall sings well as Jesus but lacks the necessary charisma for the role, while Louise Fitzhardinge and Bonnie Anderson provide a range of supporting characters.
Christopher Southall & Mark Dinkinson
Another queen of Australian musical theatre royalty appeared briefly on opening night when the cast invited an audience member on stage; and who do they bring up but Debra Byrne. We might have witnessed an impromptu duet by Hewett and Byrne!

But it was Hewett, wearing a simple white robe, who stole the show, held us in the palm of her hand during Day By Day and got us on our feet as we cheered and thanked the Lord for her professionalism and God-sent voice.

By Kate Herbert

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