When Godspell hit Broadway in the 70s, it was a light hearted, refreshing, tender and bittersweet portrayal of the last years in the life of Jesus Christ. Based on the Gospel according to Matthew, the show highlighted Jesus’ role as teacher to his apostles and as the bearer of a new doctrine – Love. Throughout the show, Jesus is portrayed as a gentle and patient teacher who is entertaining with his lessons yet firm in his message.
The production at Notre Dame of Maryland University recaptures this lightheartedness in its performance of Godspell. An all female cast frolics through the parables (lessons) of Christ in a sweet rendition of the show.
The cast reaches its heights as ensemble performers in the musical numbers. The music of Godspell ranges from pop to folk rock to gospel and vaudeville allowing a wide range of musical performance. When the 10-member cast sings together on the rousing song, “Bless the Lord,” and on the poignant number, “All Good Gifts,” they are a powerful chorus and their sound is clear and moving. Several of the performers are members of the Notre Dame of Maryland University Choir and their skill is evident when they sing together.
While Godspell recounts the Passion of Christ and his last years, its playful yet poignant approach to the teachings of Jesus Christ are endearing. Several of the actors really embody this playful thoughtfulness. Candice Singleton, who plays an apostle, and Tess Maseda, who also plays an apostle, exhibit such child-like nimbleness to their characters that you laugh out loud. Kristen Lily Ali, who plays Jesus Christ, has a charming sweetness to her portrayal of the patient teacher.
Norma Gomez, who plays Judas, is the strongest performer of the group. The interplay between Jesus and his betrayer, Judas, is a powerful subplot of its own. Ms. Gomez makes you understand the complexity of their relationship and you see Judas struggle throughout the show displaying a full range of emotion–from friendship to love, from outrage to outcast. She holds herself apart from the other apostles, but clearly has a connection to Jesus that makes her ultimate betrayal so profound.
Several other players – apostles Sammi Ciuchta, Jazmin Greene, and Madeline Grewell -- were strong actors, but I kept waiting for them to break out in their performances. They seemed constrained yet willing to give the show more energy, more commitment.
Overall, the performers failed to bring a cohesive energy to the show. They performed the individual parables as short vignettes, but failed to keep the whole show moving forward. The carnival company of actors never really came together as a community, nor convinced the audience that this was the team to carry on the message of Jesus Christ.
This failure to rally could be attributed to the inconsistent sound projection throughout the show. The actors did not have mikes, so I was distracted during the production trying to figure out where the sound system was housed. At times, the sound seemed to come out from behind the stage and the actors, thus muffling the songs and the performances. When the actors turned from the audience, their dialogue disappeared with them. It was unfortunate for the production and made it hard for the audience to connect to the performance.
Another limitation of the production was the vast stage area that swallowed up the performers and the sound. True, the original stage set for Godspell was envisioned as a minimalist setting and Stage Manager Monique Jones followed this vision. A scaffold and risers comprised the set. But while the pieces were inventively used, the rest of the stage area was littered with other equipment that played no role in the show. While many educational institutions are stuck with the ‘auditorium’ set up of school days gone by, there are ways to overcome the dated look to create an intimate stage area for the performers and the audience.
Godspell is playing at Notre Dame of Maryland University in LeClerc Hall on Friday and Saturday, March 2 & 3 at 8:00 pm; and Sunday, March 4, Matinee at 2:00 pm. You can purchase tickets online at http://www.ndm.edu/godspell%20 or at the door or call for reservations at 410-532-5543. Tickets are $18 General Admission / $8.00 Faculty, Staff & all Students.