The message of Easter came early this year as Encore Stage & Studio’s (Encore) Musical Theatre Intensive presented John-Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell. Performed in the sparsely set black box space of Gunston Arts Center-Theatre Two, this musical follows the parables of the New Testament told through a small group of disciples, John the Baptist (Nicholas Boone) and Jesus (Lucy Rocchio), playing off of the comedy of human pitfalls and the joy of God’s everlasting love.
The show leans into the life of Jesus of Nazareth as he spreads his message of kindness, tolerance, and overall love with songs that range drastically in genre but lacked nothing in musicality (music played by Douglas Ullman Jr., Brian Metcalf, and Doug Harris), highlighting that difference can be cohesive and coexistent. The final somber scenes portray the Last Supper and the Crucifixion but the message pervades, the characters always singing.
Rocchio wonderfully refreshed the role of Jesus, spreading the biblical message with a firm and funny hand, appropriately dressed in a Wonder Woman t-shirt. Likewise, Boone brought a laidback yet excitable vibe to the role of John the Baptist, inviting the audience to laugh and feel with him at every expression, even when filling the darker role of Judas in the second act. Their emotion through every scene carried until the very last note. The supporting cast, each under their own names, were colorfully dressed and acted so as well, bringing life to each parable and depth to each song, with their ensemble numbers being the strongest in the show (most especially in the second act with “By My Side”).
Cleverly directed by Kelsey Meiklejohn and Douglas Ullman, Jr., the show lacked nothing in humor, talent, and energy, integrating the audience before the show had even begun: actors mingled on the stage before the opening number, grape juice (presumably used later in the show as the wine in the Last Supper) handed out during intermission, and plenty of opportunities given to the audience to participate as the show went on. And if that was not enough to draw in the audience, then the set would have with carefully arranged boards and supports, simple props, and a tastefully staged crucifixion with soft lights that focused on the stage.
Though the cast is young and the story ages old, Encore Stage & Studio’s Godspell beautifully integrated joy, heartache, and the color of life in this timeless musical that spreads the message of acceptance and love.