‘Godspell’ at Silhouette Stages

Silhouette Stage’s Godspell, directed by Stephen M. Deininger, opened last night at Slayton House in Columbia. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by John-Michael Tebelak, it’s based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew. The musical opened Off-Broadway in 1971, has been a favorite with high schools, universities, and community theatres. It had a revival on Broadway in 2011.

Godspell is also reflective of some of the musicals of the time, like Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. The Jesus portrayed here is not the conflicted one that we saw in Superstar. He is the Jesus who preaches love, peace, kindness, and the condemning the worship of money and wealth.

Samantha McEwen Photo by Steve Teller
Samantha McEwen Photo by Steve Teller

The musical does not get bogged down in the culture of the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. It is updated both musically, the numbers had a little more hip hop than the original, and through modern references in the dialogue, for example the Bill Clinton scandal and a reference to the character Groot in last summer’s blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. They kept it relevant through slides and videos on the back wall which covered the strife of the Middle East, Ferguson, Mo., and in a most recent update – the unrest just this month in Baltimore. In the musical number “Beautiful City” the two structures in the background of the Middle Ages architecture appeared to be the Twin Towers.

The slides are also used to underscore what is happening on stage from the harvest picture behind the song, “All Good Gifts” to the cross on a barren field for “Finale.”

As is usual for Silhouette Stages’ productions, you will be blown away by the wonderful range of voices of the cast. As Jesus, Andrew Worthington successfully walks that tightrope of being a calm and quiet Jesus, and, yet, he oozes the charisma that would have drawn people to him. He deftly plays the humanitarian teacher of parables, like the “Good Samaritan,” as well as the man who understands his role in man’s relationship to God. Worthington grabbed the audience in the palm of his hands and never let go and we were immensely moved during the “Finale,” when Jesus is crucified.

My favorite numbers are “Bless the Lord by Soul” featuring Samantha McEwen who adds a lot of blues with a hint of gospel, and “Turn Back O Man,” sung by the sultry Mary Guay Kramer Taylor, who is also the producer.

Taylor Washington rocks the stage in the rock/r&b number “Learn Your Lessons Well” and later blends her lovely voice with Clare Kneebone’s equally beautiful sounds in “By My Side” (written by Peggy Gordon with lyrics by Jay Hamburger).

Other notable performances were by Kory Twit in “All Good Gifts”, Richard Greenslit, who portrays both John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot in “Prepare Ye,” and Matt Wentzel performing “We Beseech Thee” and “On the Willows.” Wentzel has appeared in several Silhouette Players productions and always brings a lot of energy to his performances.

The most famous song of Godspell is “Day by Day.” Here, Adeline K. Sutter takes the lead and her voice is perfectly suited for this sweet and memorable number. It will run through your mind long after the show ends. It is also nice to see so many Howard County graduates make the transition from high school and college stages. Thomas Ogar who is wonderful in “Light of the World,” another one of those r&b/rock productions, is just one of those examples.

Stephen M. Deininger does a terrific job directing the cast with Ryan Geiger’s  minimal, yet effective set. The simple use of boards to create “The Last Supper” is very imaginative. Deininger keeps the actors moving and with lively choreography by Katie Sheldon, allows the actions to flow from the audience to the stage and back again.

Andrew Worthington as Jesus sings of the “Beautiful City” while (l-r) Adeline, John the Baptist, and Clare look on. Photo by Steve Teller.
Andrew Worthington as Jesus sings “Beautiful City. Photo by Steve Teller.

The music under the direction of Robin Trenner who leads the excellent band (Daniel Guay, Teddy Hersey, Myron Williams, and Jeff Glass) creates just the right beats and sounds that capture both the era of the play, the religiosity of the musical themes and the newer influences incorporated into this production.The lighting by Samuel Andrews is colorful and bright.

The production captures the joy and hope of Jesus’ teachings in Act I and early in Act II, as well as the pain of his death in the latter part of Act II. It will leave you wishing that our leaders would remember some these teachings- showing charity and love to the poor and needy and peace, not war, to their enemies. The fundamentals that make humanity have not changed over the two thousand years since St. Matthew wrote his Gospel.

“Prepare Ye” to have a wonderful time at Silhouette Stage’s divine production of Godspell. 

Running Time: 2 hours, with an intermission.

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Godspell plays through May 24, 2015 at Silhouette Stages at Slayton House Theatre in Wilde Lake Village Center— 10400 Cross Fox Lane, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 637-5289, or purchase them online.

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