Review: ‘Godspell (2012 Revised Version)’ by Rooftop Productions

Rooftop Productions has wowed me yet again, this time with its current production, Godspell.

Jay Tilley as Judas aims to strike at Ryan Walker (Jesus) but is stopped by Letty Vita, playing Celisse. Photo by Jill St. Germain.
Jay Tilley as Judas aims to strike at Ryan Walker (Jesus) but is stopped by Letty Vita, playing Celisse. Photo by Jill St. Germain.

I have a hard time describing Godspell because there isn’t exactly a plot; there are several incredibly catchy tunes, loosely framed around parables and some of the events of the New Testament. It’s also hard to determine who stars in Godspell. The lead players in this musical are Jesus (Ryan Walker) and John the Baptist (Jay Tilley), who later becomes Judas. That being said, a lot of what makes Godspell a really wonderful musical is the ensemble. Everyone has a song, and every song is incredibly different than all the others.

While the venue may not have a stage, the production team (Director Ted Ballard, Choreographer Maureen Hagerman, Set Designer Dale Walsh, and Musical Director Daniel Holmes) makes the best use of a challenging performance space with the use of dynamic blocking, tight choreography, modular set pieces that can create levels, and of course, near-flawless singing and orchestration.

It’s important that a person playing Jesus can show unconditional love for all, and Ryan Walker delivers. Walker’s Jesus is sweet and jubilant. He carefully talks through parables and asks everyone to be kind to each other and it never sounds saccharine or fake. His voice matches the acting and is bubbling with energy.

Contrasting Walker is Jay Tilley. Tilley plays John the Baptist, who becomes the fiercely loyal friend-turned-betrayer Judas. While everyone else in Godspell joins Jesus in almost manic elation through most of the musical, Tilley has the unenviable task of following Jesus and slowly seeing fallibility in the son of God. In “It’s All For The Best,” Walker’s and Tilley’s voices spar in dueling melodies, making for some of the best work of the night. In a scene where he admonishes someone for being a hypocrite, Tilley shows us an aggressive and angry Judas. “On The Willows” shows a softer side to Tilley’s strong and melodic voice, which is complemented beautifully by pianist and featured singer Sarah Jane Scott.

As I said before, this musical needs a good ensemble, and this ensemble is amazing. There were no weak links. The group dance numbers were very well-executed, and harmonies were tight.

The ensemble played charmingly with the audience and let their exuberance spread. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Nick (Peter Thaxter) encourage two younger audience members when they tried to join in on the ensemble’s fast-paced hand-jive from their seats. It was a small moment that spoke to the tone Ted Ballard infuses into Godspell.

Stephanie Blakely (Anna Maria) sits with Ryan Walker (Jesus) during the song “Day by Day
Stephanie Blakely (Anna Maria) sits with Ryan Walker (Jesus) during the song “Day by Day”‘ Photo by Maureen Hagerman.

My favorite ensemble songs are “Day by Day” performed by Anna Maria (Stephanie Blakely) and “Bless the Lord” performed by Lindsay (Ashley Williams). Blakely’s voice is smooth and her song was unrestrainedly joyful. Everything about Williams’s song is stunning and full of nuance, and even with the rest of the ensemble singing below her, she belted loud enough to rival any professional singer.

It would be a crime to not shout-out the rest of this amazing cast: Celisse (Letty Vita)’s spunkiness and fantastic movement, George (Franklin Williams)’s epic dancing, Morgan (Lindsey Capuno)’s sauciness during “Turn Back O Man,” Telly (R.J. Smith)’s sincerity and for making me actually laugh when he beeped at me, and last but certainly not least, Uzo (Betsy Hansen)’s genuine emotions in all of her scenes (if you want to pick one person in the ensemble to watch at all times, Hansen is that person).

If you’re looking to watch something that will energize and uplift your spirits, look no further. Godspell is truly delightful.

Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Godspell (2012 Revised Version) plays through April 20, 2019, at Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory located at 9419 Battle St, Manassas, VA. Purchase tickets at the door, call the box office at (703) 330-2787, or go online.