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‘Godspell’ at Pasadena Theatre Company

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Theatre lovers can hearken back to the days when “psychedelic” and “flower power” were prevalent in the American vocabulary at the Pasadena Theatre Company’s tuneful and energetic production of Godspell. Produced off-Broadway in 1971, with music by Stephen Schwartz and book by John-Michael Tebelak, this classic musical is a joyful and incredibly funny retelling of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Produced by Sharon Steele and directed by Chuck Dick, Pasadena Theatre Company’s Godspell is bright and bouncy and totally family-friendly.

The cast of 'Godspell': (Top Row Left to Right): Sandy Rardon, Lori Chapman, Julia Salatti, John Scheeler (Bottom Row Left to Right): A.J. Williams, Sean Love, Katie Sacha Brian Mellen (Jesus), Frank Antonio (John the Baptist), and Christina Shunk (BottomCenter): Christy Stouffer. Photo courtesy of Pasadena Theatre Company.

The cast of ‘Godspell’: (Top Row Left to Right): Sandy Rardon, Lori Chapman, Julia Salatti, and John Scheeler. (Bottom Row Left to Right): A.J. Williams, Sean Love, Katie Sacha, Brian Mellen (Jesus), Frank Antonio (John the Baptist), and Christina Shunk. (Bottom Center): Christy Stouffer. Photo by Brighter Futures Photography.

The musical  begins with the off-stage voice of God and a “Prologue” performed by the ensemble as a group of philosophers from various periods in history, like Socrates, Martin Luther, Friedrich Nietzche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Buckminster Fuller. Then, the shofar sounds and John the Baptist—brilliantly portrayed by Frank Antonio in a rainbow-colored tie-dye outfit—descends to the stage from the back of the house, chanting “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” Next comes the ultra-talented Brian Mellen as Jesus in a Superman t-shirt and rainbow-colored striped pants, who sings the thrilling “Save the People.”

Much of the narrative is told in parables which are familiar to most of the audience members, including “the Good Samaritan,” “Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone,” “Turn the other cheek” and “the Prodigal Son.” There is also the story of Noah and the flood, the Beatitudes, the Last Supper, and a brief and very respectful portrayal of the crucifixion.

Except for a few necessarily serious and somber moments, Godspell is a comedic romp with great musical numbers including rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and ballads. Although Mellen and Antonio can be considered the “leads,” this is very much an ensemble show. The list includes Cristina Shunk, Julia Salatti, A.J. Williams, Sean Love, Sandra Rardon, Lorelei Chapman, Christy Stouffer, John Scheeler, and Katie Sacha, and they all have a solo or some other opportunity to demonstrate their talents. Every performer in this show is a consummate singer, dancer, and comedian, and they provide the audience with an experience that is comparable—by any measure—to professional theatre.

For example, Sandra Rardon is incandescent singing the soulful and powerful ballad, “Day by Day,” and Katie Sacha is equally stunning in the reprise.  Julia Salatti turns in a stellar performance with “Bless the Lord My Soul,” and John Scheeler brings the house down as he belts out “All Good Gifts” with confidence and ease. Christy Stouffer is down and dirty—complete with a feather boa—as she moves through the audience singing the blues number, “Turn Back, O Man” and flirting with the male members of the audience. Sean Love takes center stage leading the triumphant and joyous “We Beseech Thee.” And remember, this is just a small sample of the musical delights in this production!

Mellen and Antonio stop the show by combining their talents in a syncopated soft-shoe number, “All for the Best,” with patter reminiscent of the comedy teams of the past. Mellen sings in traditional style, then Antonio does a fast-talking piece, then they repeat their parts simultaneously. It’s very impressive and not to be missed! It’s a real Scene Stealer.

In addition to singing talent, the performers shine in dancing and comedy, as well. Led by Choreographer Jason M. Kimmell, the entire cast dances everything from rock and roll to ballet, with both athleticism and artistry. In one number, the dancers seem like they are in an aerobics class. In “Light of the World,” the cast skillfully performs in blackout with flashlights. In the reprise of “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” the rest of the cast carries Jesus on their shoulders.

The performers are equally brilliant with both spoken humor and physical comedy. They move smoothly from updated references such as a cell phone ringing to snippets of popular rock and roll songs such as “Play That Funky Music” and “Bad Boy, Bad Boy,” and back again to “Jesus Loves Me.”

Led by Musical Director and pianist Kim Murray, the 4-member band was nothing short of fabulous! Tom Jackson (bass/keyboards), Tom Delaney (guitar), and Diane Riccobene (percussion) joined Murray in perfectly complementing—but never overshadowing—the onstage performers. Jackson and Delaney are clearly adept at multi-tasking, as evidenced by their singing of the haunting and beautiful “On the Willows.”

Christy Stouffer’s and Lori Chapman’s costumes, Al Caldwell’s sets and lighting, and Emily Donaho’s and Pam Sascha’s props were skillfully integrated to provide a circus atmosphere—both literally and figuratively.  The professional polish of the circus backdrop and circus benches combined with the bright and garish colors of tutus and tights to provide a feeling of childhood innocence and fun.

Godspell focuses on the universal themes of love and kindness and morality, and can be enjoyed by audience members of all ages, religions, and personal philosophies, as we travel through this life—day by day. Pasadena Theatre Company’s Godspell is divine.

Running Time: About two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Godspell plays through August 24, 2014 at The Pasadena Theatre Company performing at the Anne Arundel Community College Humanities Recital Hall – 101 College Parkway, in Arnold, MD. Purchase tickets online.

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