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March 27, 2001

Godspell - Winsome and Innocent

A Review by Pat Pinson

The 1971 Godspell is a delightful way to revisit the Gospel of St. Matthew. JJP's opening of it, March 23, was fresh and innocent and not particularly polished. It had a younger cast than usual, and got off to a shaky start with a cranky microphone and lack of focus by the company, but it tightened up quickly and took on its own life.

Christopher Spencer gave the production cohesion and consistency just as the character (Jesus) he played. He brought a strong sense of innocence and openness to the part and yet when he needed anger and strength, it was there. With a good singing voice and stage presence, he was the glue of the whole production.

Because there is no strong plot line, the actors must establish their character in bits and pieces which they do pretty well. Particularly strong were Misty Williams as the swinging blond who also preached a good sermon, Rick Miller who can always make an audience smile with his accents and zany actions, and Megan Lam who sings well and can portray just about any strong character. But also noteworthy were Kelly Shaw's rendition of "Day By Day," Jacob Taylor's blustery character, and Blake Curtis' naivete and performance of "All Good Gifts." Cedric Fuller had the only other named part (John the Baptist and Judas) and did the motions well but never seemed to settle into the identity of the part.

An outstanding aspect of the production was the use of the hands. Mirrored gestures were often a form of communication between two people and often included in the songs. One tour-de-force was the story of the Good Samaritan told in fingers walking across a board. Beautifully done! But the real beauty of gesture was on the side done by the two interpreters for the deaf, Jennifer and Lee (no last names given). Their demeanor, interaction with each other, and singing movements were integrated into the spirit of the performance and made the whole production more effective.

The cast often interacted with the audience and used the whole space of the theater, again effective in the context of the play. But the lights turned into the audience's eyes were blinding and made it hard to see the actors. Otherwise, the busy lighting schedule was well done. The costumes often gave information about the character, especially Jesus' Superman shirt, and the use of the props was creative and lots of fun. Throwing Mardi Gras beads made this a Mobile Matthew! Paulette Clark's musical direction carried a lot of the show -- the band was very good, visible and out of the way, and although the singers sometimes had problems finding the pitch on unaccompanied song openings, the place could really rock.

Overall, this was a delightful and fun performance; the audience loved it.


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