St. Michael's Playhouse, Colchester VT
Tuesday, July 30 through Saturday, August 10, 2002
I had expected to find GODSPELL to be dated, but under Robert Steele's direction the current production at St. Michael's Playhouse stands the test of time quite well. With a talented and versatile young cast and some very clever up-dates, Mr. Steele and his production team have provided an entertaining evening.
The production is visually stunning. Setting the show in the French Quarter of New Orleans gives it a Mardi Gras look which allows for a great deal of latitude in Allison Steadman's costuming. The dresses and towering Simpson-like wigs on the unusual back-up trio are not only colorful, but very funny.
John Paul Devlin has designed a terrific bi-level set which has the look of giant wooden shutters. Jeffrey Salzberg's lighting is wonderfully effective, particularly when filtering through the slats. The high tech opening using projections of binary numbers really puts the material in context.
The band, under Tom Cleary's direction, sounds great. No one usually mentions the musicians, so I'd like to point out that the bass line on "Day By Day" is outstanding. I only wish the entire band were onstage and more a part of the show. Mr. Cleary has made a good choice in beginning "We Beseech Thee" a cappella and "Take Me With You" is really nice. I'd compliment the soloist but I'm not sure who she is, as there is no listing in the program of either musical numbers or who is doing what.
I was able to pin down some cast members from their lobby photos. Bradford Coolidge did a nice job as Jesus, especially with "Alas, Alas". Lance Olds, who doubles as John the Baptist and Judas, is a very good actor/singer, and Paul Domencic has a great comic flair. Orville Mendoza has a charming persona and a truly beautiful voice. He and Yumi Nagano do a lovely version of "All Good Gifts". Tiffany May is great with country style; Nora Conlon's "Day By Day" is strong, as is Taifa Harris on "Oh Bless the Lord My Soul". As a matter of fact, everyone in the cast sounds good.
Mr. Steele's direction along with Corey Camerlengo's excellent choreography produces a continuous flow of action. The debt sequence and the charades are great fun. I'm not going to give away the great joke of the unjust judge, which is particularly timely in light of recent events. The judgement sequence in Act II is extremely creative and kudos to whoever came up with the umbrella eyes. Mr. Steele has also chosen to turn to the dark side of the story earlier than usual, which I think works well for a contemporary audience. Simone Zamore's powerful rendition of "Turn Back, Oh Man" is a serious challenge rather than a lighthearted burlesque number.
It's interesting to see this show, which is so identified with the flower child era, being revived in a number of theatres after a gap of thirty years. The story is timeless and the music good, so with a creative director and production team, it can still work.
On a scale of one to five the St. Michael's Playhouse production of GODSPELL gets four and three-fourths covered bridges. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.