On April 16 I had the opportunity to see Southern Utah University's production of Godspell. Unfamiliar with the story and raised by conservative parents, I had my doubts about seeing a musical about Jesus. Godspell reenacts parables from both the gospels of Matthew and Luke in a lighthearted yet touching manner for all people. I found SUU's version to be touching without being spiritual and funny without being sacrilegious, and it most certainly had the ability to be either of those. This made the show appeal to a much wider demographic and variety of people.
The cast was fantastic! Each character has a distinct personality and unique way to appeal to the audience. As a whole, they utilized both timely and universal improv as they told the parables. I could not tell what was scripted and what was not, but it was all natural to the story, the characters, and the actors. The dialogue flowed; there were no unnatural pauses or obscure references. However, I had two complaints with the show, but they are more structural. I found it to have a confusing beginning, and I was worried that I would not understand the entire show. I didn't figure it out for a few numbers. Those sitting next to me had similar problems. There was just a lack of clarity. My other complaint was the costuming under the "sin" costume. I wish that there had been a costume change at intermission.
The symbolism within the storyline added another layer and also helped clarify. Each character had a unique costume covered in physical representations of their sins, weaknesses, or temptations. As each character came unto Jesus, they traded the outward representation of their sin for a scarf from Jesus, to mark them as a follower. However, their base of a costume was still - for some - related to their 'sin' and I feel that was unnecessary and caused confusion. It was also very touching at the end as they all placed their sins physically upon Jesus so that He could redeem them.
My favorite number was "All For the Best." All the choreography was by Emilie Moulton and this number was the most entertaining. It made me want to dance! It was what I could call "classical broadway" or character, with soft shoe and variations on the Charleston. And as a choreographer, I must give props for utilization of the entire stage, formation changes, levels, and groups. Too many choreographers go the "easy route" -- especially in musical theatre!
The characters of Jesus and Judus were, of course, fantastic. Jayson LeBaron played Jesus, and I heard a patron say: "Jayson just channels Jesus!" And it was very true. Not necessarily the aloof Jesus, but the "You've got a friend in Jesus" and "Jesus loves you!" respect. LeBaron did a phenomenal job in his acting, singing, and dancing. He really became Jesus, he truly cared about his fellow cast members and wanted to save them. Joseph Spear played opposite of Jesus as Judus. He maintained his character the entire time, and kept separate from the others. He was also the last to give up his sins and take up Jesus. And the two most outstanding actors, who always drew my attention, must also get their shout outs: Tony Carter, a scholar, and MacKenzie Pedersen, the prostitute. They were so fun to watch as well as being completely true to their characters. Pedersen's conversion was also very touching. She played the part of the women who was not a virgin and everyone wanted to stone. Jesus stopped the stoning and forgave her. I truly felt what she felt, her pain and fear, and then her relief and joy.
The entire cast of Godspell did a great job; they are performing again this week. It's definitely worth the watch!