Covedale’s ‘Godspell’ Full of Positive Vibes
Posted On June 23, 2017
Review by Jack Crumley of Godspell: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts
Godspell has started its colorful run at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, and the cast will likely be sleeping well every night from all the work they put in on stage. Originally conceived and directed by John-Michael Tebelak with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Godspell is an opportunity for Director Maggie Perrino and the cast to really put their stamp on a show that’s been running for 45 years now. There’s a lot of room for improv, and this group doesn’t shy away from making this show unique to them.
Godspell is a musical based on the gospel of St Matthew. It tells the story of Jesus teaching his followers through a series of parables and songs. It begins with the cast all singing about their various points of view and philosophies that ultimately degenerates into arguing and “babel.” John the Baptist (played by newcomer Peter Cutler) arrives, telling the people to “Prepare ye, the way of the Lord.” When Jesus (more than capably played by Kyle Quinlivan) arrives, it’s in a humble way, and he then proceeds to teach his followers and celebrate the love of God. Though he is ultimately betrayed and crucified as is written in the Bible, it’s that celebration of love that is the heart of Godspell.
Godspell is one of those shows that really only works if there isn’t a hint of irony or cynicism. The actors almost have to have the same child-like enthusiasm on stage as their characters do for the various stories they act out and songs they sing. This cast nails that necessary enthusiasm and energy. Even the parts of the show that are spoken have a kind of rhythm to them. Maintaining that high, exuberant energy level for the entire show is not easy, especially since the cast truly has to function as an ensemble. Aside from just a handful of moments, every actor is in every story, singing every song. Near the end of the first act, it was hard to miss the sweat on Quinlivan’s brow.
Not to sell any of the actors in the cast short, because everyone worked together very well, but there were a couple of performances that really stood out. First, Quinlivan’s work as Jesus. He has to come across as loving, authoritative, wise, clever, challenging, and humble all at once. That, coupled with the songs he has to sing, is a tall order, but Quinlivan delivers an admirable performance. He keeps your attention as Jesus even when he’s not the focus of what’s happening on stage. Ashley Colbert delivered what is arguably the most well known song in the show, “Day by Day.” She sang it with an honesty and an earnestness that easily laid the foundation for the rest of the cast to build to its crescendo of an ending. Also, Savannah Slaby’s performance of “Bless the Lord” was a show-stopper that came halfway through the first act. Like Quinlivan, I found myself looking to see how Slaby was reacting to another character’s dialogue off and on throughout the show.
All of the musical numbers could have been handled with the cast singing to prerecorded music, but the band should also be singled out for their great work on keys, bass, guitar, and drums. Their work added to the celebratory atmosphere of the show.
The choreography is pretty straightforward, as if all the lines of dialogue and notes to sing weren’t enough to keep the actors occupied. I was particularly impressed with the way props were used, as if they appeared out of thin air. The cast is pretty much on stage for the whole show, but they were able to start using small hand lights, dollar bills, and dancing canes at a moment’s notice. Nice blocking to make that work so well.
People may find the overtly positive message of Godspell off-putting. But that’s a sign of just how jaded and frustrated we’ve become. Cynicism shouldn’t be confused with wisdom, nor happiness stupidity. Maggie Perrino addresses that in the Director notes, saying that despite the polarizing tragedies we hear about on the radio and see on TV on such a regular basis, “Godspell is a reminder that love is the answer. That togetherness is the answer.” And I couldn’t agree more. Leave your pessimism and sarcasm at home when you go to see Godspell. It may feel strange, but you won’t need them to enjoy this show.
Godspell continues at the Covedale Theater through October 2. Tickets are available at the Covedale website, http://www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa/.