What does Domino’s Pizza, Judge Judy, Lady Gaga, Robert J. Debry and Sarah Palin all have in common? They (or at least references of) can all be found in Parable Productions’ charming version of Godspell. One might expect to be mired down with scripture and preaching during a religious show. It was an absolute treat to be drawn into a show through the use of off-the-cuff humor and modern comedic references.
Godspell opened on Broadway in 1971 and was written by Steven Schwartz (Wicked) and John-Michael Tebelak. This fall, Broadway will see its first ever revival of Godspell. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the revival will be the first ever Broadway show completely funded and produced by “The People” – meaning, patrons, rather than producers! And how timely is it that we get our very own little production here in SLC right now?
I have to admit, I saw the movie version years ago and didn’t care for it. I was unsure what to expect from a theater company I’d never heard of, operating out of a church and producing a show I had very little interest in. Nonetheless, reviewing a show calls for objectivity, so I checked my feelings at the door and began with a blank slate.
Godspell is a musical that depicts the parables (teachings of Jesus Christ) found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke found in the Christian Bible. The teachings of the Good Samaritan, the Golden Rule, Lazarus and turning the other cheek are just a few of the messages that are conveyed.
However, all these stories are told in a circus setting with absolutely fabulous costumes (Annie Fields) and childlike innocence that reproduces the feel of a children’s TV show like Barney or Teletubbies – but better. At times, the Choreography (Lindsay Walters and Gloria Bowden) is so over the top silly but so fitting and endearing that you can’t help but feel the simple joy that is the experience.
The first act is light and fun with little or no story arch. Rather, it’s an intentional jumbled mix of vignettes. Through this, the audience is able to get to know the characters. More importantly they are left with a sense of community and the teachings of kindness, love and goodness that Christ shares.
It is not until the second act, as we near the crucifixion that the story starts coming together and we are able to feel and see the end coming. It is here where songs such as “By My Side” and “On the Willows” tug at the heartstrings.
The talent was surprisingly solid for what often accompanies a production touting a $5 ticket. The dancing was done in unison and a lot of fun, Heidi Smith had an amazing voice, Daniel Eggers had a great stage presence, Joshua Shimizu was charming and Taylor J. Smith carried the role of Jesus with peace. The crucifixion couldn’t have been an easy scene but the entire cast and production had me breathless. Major props to the musicians! I just love live music, especially electric guitars.
Overall, if the show doesn’t inspire a bit of spirituality, it will certainly (as it should) inspire humanity. It’s not preachy or irreverent. The message of love is beautifully and respectfully delivered.
Godspell plays four more times (June 24, 25, 26 and 27) at the Calvary Chapel in Salt Lake City. Tickets are only $5 and can be purchased on location at the Bookstore.