We’ve seen it done before with many versions of “Godspell,” often with campy clown like makeup and wacky costuming to signify becoming a follower of Christ, but Resonance brought a whole new level to the 1971 production written by Stephen Schwartz ( Wicked, Pippin, Children of Eden,) and lyrics by Jay Hamburger, staged at First United Methodist Church in Omaha.
Resonance, a premier vocal ensemble comprised of local professional singers teamed up with Broadway luminary Tiffany Haas to tell the story of Jesus and his followers. For one week they brought in Haas (Wicked, The Drowsy Chaperone,) to choreograph and stage direct this iconic musical. In collaboration with First United, the compelling story about the early church and its foundations is brought to life in the church’s sanctuary, emulating that of a fellowship hall.Francis Sillau, Associate Stage Director and Music Director Mark Kurtz comprise the production team. In the vein of the 2011 Broadway revival, the names of the cast were used in place of the original characters. Resonance Ensemble members as well as Youth Ensemble rounded out the talented cast.
As Easter draws near the story of Godspell is a great reminder that no matter what walk of life, one revolutionary act in history paved the way for a new movement to form.Drawing direct parallels between the parables and nuanced themes of the Gospel, its themes expand the paradigm of philosophy versus religion, owing to the universal themes of love and forgiveness.
Company Gospel numbers are full of charisma, soul, and entertainment while other songs carry a folk like vibe. From “Light of the World,” “We Beseech Thee”, “Bless the Lord,” “Learn Your Lessons Well.” to “Turn Back Oh Man”, each song is energetically on point and choreographed with precision.
The cast began their representations of different philosophies throughout history to religions which transitions into the musically challenging “Tower of Babble,” as it cleverly juxtaposes the idea of existentialism and esoteric ideologies against a new, radical doctrine of truth: the Good News.
In “Prepare Ye the Way,” the use of resonant trumpets resound from the back of a choir loft as John the Baptist (Jon Gathje,) walks down the aisle to herald the coming of Jesus and offer baptism. “God Save the People,” was a wonderful moment carrying a message of hope and redemption, led by J. Isaiah Smith who plays the Messiah. “Day By Day,” is the tried-and-true melodic number of Godspell’s folk tune repertoire. Tara Cowherd brings a sweet essence with her smooth and mellow mezzo vocals with ease to the piece.
Lauren Morrissey displays an angelic, light lyric soprano solo in “All for the Best,” accompanied by Liam Richardson and the Youth Ensemble. A soft shoe stylistic tap-dancing choreography was a nice addition to the vaudevillian number.
John Celesky possesses gorgeous soulful tenor vocals as he leads the followers in “Light of the World,” and Beth Leona King undoubtedly steals the show with her Mae West inspired “Turn Back O Man,” complete with glitz, a ragtime piano, and high, impressively piercing belt. King’s sultry essence is a dynamic performance as the rest of the company joins her. King and Celesky add just the right amount of solo power without pulling focus or detracting away from the cohesion of the group.
“Beautiful City” is serene and bittersweet, a glorious reminder that when a like-minded brethren and a community comes together it can create a strong sense of unity, brotherhood, and love, continuing that legacy for years to come. This is one of Smith’s best songs and one of the most powerful, moving numbers with his rich, velvety vocal timbre.
Notable moments in the show: audience participation, upbeat as well as stylistic choreography, sunglasses, letting loose and rocking out, as well as various character iterations and dramatizations. As each number segues into another stories are told, and goofy and fun animal interpretations of New Testament parables, from sheep to cows to birds are depicted.
“Godspell,” is a musical that remains timeless as its message still resonates today. There are certainly several takeaways we can learn from. Love your enemy and blessed are the peacemakers. Learn to be humble and do not exalt yourself before men. Be pure of heart and soul. Be devoted to one another. And overcome evil with love.