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  • Review: The joy of 'Godspell' is infectious

  • Randall Theatre Company's new production of "Godspell" is so unabashedly joyful in its music and message that it's hard not to let go of any grumbling skepticism and get swept away by its enthusiasm.
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    • If you go

      What: "Godspell"
      Where: Randall Theatre, 10 Third St., Medford
      When: 7 p.m. Aug. 7-9 and 14-16; 1 p.m. Aug. 3, 10, 17
      Cost: Reserved seating $15; pay what you want at the door

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      If you go

      What: "Godspell"

      Where: Randall Theatre, 10 Third St., Medford

      When: 7 p.m. Aug. 7-9 and 14-16; 1 p.m. Aug. 3, 10, 17

      Cost: Reserved seating $15; pay what you want at the door

      Information: Call 541-632-3258 or see www.randalltheatre.com

  • Randall Theatre Company's new production of "Godspell" is so unabashedly joyful in its music and message that it's hard not to let go of any grumbling skepticism and get swept away by its enthusiasm.
    "Godspell" is a rock musical based on the parables and life of Jesus Christ. Its message is love God, love thy neighbor and look after one another.
    The premise — including using audience participation — is that the story is set in the here and now and anyone can be a part of it. Here, as in the original 1971 Broadway production as well as in the popular off-Broadway revival in 2011, Jesus and the disciples are young, exuberant and innocent. With the exception of Jesus, John the Baptist and Judas, the characters don't have names.
    "Godspell" was written by John-Michael Tebelak, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, who later authored the Broadway hits "Pippin" and "Wicked." The dialogue and lyrics are taken from Bible passages and traditional hymns.
    Randall Theatre is using the updated script and music from the 2011 version, with contemporary references in the dialogue and everything from rap to jazz to rousing gospel in its musical score.
    Randall Artistic Director Robin Downward plays Jesus. Downward is a polished performer — he did a superb performance as the lead in Camelot Theatre's "Jekyll and Hyde" last season — and he makes a fine ringleader for the relentlessly cheerful action onstage. Michael Williams is a solid dramatic foil, first as the awestruck John the Baptist and then as the hesitant and sneaky Judas.
    The "disciples," played by Rigo Jimenez, Kathy Wing, Deborah Downward, Brianna Gowland, Christina Ferrari, Meagan Kirby and Nat Dalbec, each get their star turn in a musical number. Every one of them has a strong voice and engaging acting skills to carry the show's message.
    "Godspell" is not an easy show to direct with its 18 musical numbers and rapid pacing. Director Bob Herried and choreographer Deborah Downward have done a heroic job moving the large cast effectively over Randall Theatre's small stage, but at times the energy level becomes manic and the enthusiasm appears forced.
    Randall Theatre has upgraded its technical capabilities with this show. There is a new sound system, the actors are now fitted with cordless microphones, and there is a new LED lighting system.
    There were still some glitches on opening night. The singers were often drowned out by the recorded and live music — Music Director John Taylor was onstage playing keyboard — and lighting cues often did not follow the action. Randall's physical facility keeps improving, but it isn't there yet.
    When "Godspell" opened on Broadway in 1971, it was the diametrical opposite in music and mood to the earlier rock musical "Hair." If "Hair" was a hard-edged anthem for counterculture, filled with profanity and sexuality, "Godspell" had a kinder, gentler message.
    "Godspell" was the precursor to contemporary praise music and Christian rock. The songs from "Godspell" — especially "Day by Day" and "Learn Your Lessons Well" — have become part of the vocabulary of Protestant worship. Randall Theatre's production of "Godspell" continues that tradition with charisma and joy.
    Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.
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