Review: ‘Godspell’ at Popes Head Players

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Godspell is the inaugural productiom for Popes Head Players in Fairfax, VA. Conceived from a love for performing arts and outreach, Sovereign Grace Church’s high school drama troupe started almost a decade ago. Since then, the program has blossomed under the loving attentions of Godspell’s producer, Martha Weaver. Now, with the introduction of Director John A. Newman, the program has opened its doors to the community–with great success.

The cast of 'Godspell.' Photo courtesy of Popes Head Players.
The cast of ‘Godspell.’ Photo courtesy of Popes Head Players.

The musical Godspell has music by Stephen Schwartz and a book by John-Michael Tebelakis, and is based on the Gospel of Matthew. It’s musical offerings range in style from a frenetic cacophony in the “‘Prologue” to the upbeat and optimistic ballad “Day by Day,” and the bluesy, swing number  “Turn Back, O Man.”

Godspell is designed as an ensemble piece, with each player receiving an opportunity to speak or sing in turn. This 12-person production was lively and shared good chemistry. The script interpretation is very earnest right from the start, through to the return of Jesus before the final curtain. Patrick Moresco was enthusiastic and sympathetic as Jesus. Anthony Weaver’s performance as John the Baptist/Judas was sincere and engaging. The rest of the ensemble delivered fine vocals.

Special mention goes to Anna Briggs whose strong voice lent the necessary weight to the beloved “Day by Day,” Amanda Holsinger  and her rendition of “All Good Gifts,” and Julie Judd’s “By My Side.” My favorite moment of the whole show came from Nancy McGovern performing a split and a headstand during the Act Two introduction. Jared Okada’s enthusiastic demeanor lent an energetic spark to ensemble numbers.

Under the direction of Geoff Sawyer, PHP’s live band comprised of drums (Michael Stewart), electric and acoustic guitars (Edwin Lopez and Steve Burrows), keyboard (Kathy Black), and recorder (Karen Kobayashi) adds tremendous value to the overall production. Supporting vocals from Katherine Long, Jenny Malone, and Martha Weaver rounded out harmonies and added depth.

Choreography by Katlyn Babyak, Pat Bonnet, and Jada Mabry successfully filled the large stage, relying on ensemble execution of simple footwork and large gestures. Sovereign Grace Church’s sanctuary and stage are quite large, designed for an audience of several hundred. In response, Director Newman designed several wide, deep platforms to fill the space. These levels were effectively used throughout the production, adding invaluable dimension that is crucial to a musical.

This production’s costuming by Jeanine Babyak was influenced by a generation of non-conformists. These styles include beret-bedecked beatnik, hippie, hard-edge punk, and colorful “scene” kids. Each character was assigned a color and a symbol (similar to the original Broadway and video versions familiar to many fans), which enhanced visual interest and helped reinforce character continuity throughout the story.

This production included use of cellphones and text messages projected onto screens above the playing space. This device, crafted by Paul Shalonis, added a touch of modern whimsy and a sense of accessibility.

Popes Head Players inaugural production of Godspell, is full of energy. Every aspect of this production speaks to the sincerity and fun each participant found in preparing and presenting their work.

Also, a portion of proceeds are being donated to No Ordinary Love, an organization dedicated to providing housing,  therapy, and ultimately reunited families to children removed from human trafficking situations.

Enjoy a good show and support a great cause by buying tickets and coming to see this entertaining production of Godspell!

Running Time: Two hours plus an intermission.

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Godspell plays through April 30, 2016 at Popes Head Players performing at Sovereign Grace Church — 5200 Ox Road. in Fairfax, VA. Here is information about purchasing tickets.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for sharing this review. So many of the guest who’ve come to the first 3 shows have left uplifted and rejuvenated in ways that have brought joy, tears, and laughter to those they have shared their “Godspell” stories with. Come on out and see for yourself .. .Expect a warm welcome and hearty thanks from the cast and crew as you spend some time with them!

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