Review: Godspell

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The cast of Missouri Western’s “Godspell” certainly “prepared ye a way for the Lord” during their rendition of the popular musical this past weekend. Friday night brought in a full house, and the cast failed to disappoint in this modern interpretation of a 2,000-year-old story.

Originally released off Broadway in 1971, the musical is centered on the retelling of the Book of Matthew from the Bible. The cast performs Jesus’ teachings through modern interpretation and songs, which help contextualize the message. A unique structure of the musical is that there are only two assigned roles: Jesus and John the Baptist/Judas Iscariot.  The remaining members play themselves as they perform each story and song.

This gives each member opportunity to develop their character, but also brings with it challenges to the performer. It requires the members to be in tune with the ensemble as a whole, and to intimately react as everyone’s roles transform throughout the show. I thought the “Godspell” cast did wonderful as an ensemble. They had a connection that comes from being aware of each other and their personalities. If this had been lacking, the musical would have been less engaging, and Jesus’ teachings of humility, forgiveness, brotherly love and trusting in God’s provisions would have lost their power.

While the ensemble was crucial to a successful group dynamic, obviously without the two assigned roles of Jesus, played by Thomas Delgado, and John the Baptist, also doubling as Judas Iscariot, played by Antonio Daniels-Braziel, there would have been no plot.

Delgado was the glue that held the show together. His character of Jesus led each parable, taught each message, and was the premise the whole show was centered around. Daniels-Braziel’s characters set the plot in motion. He started the musical by baptizing the ensemble and Jesus as John the Baptist, then as Judas Iscariot he ended the musical through his betrayal of Jesus to the Jewish leaders. Upon Judas’ betrayal, the musical took a dark and emotional shift as events unfolded.

The whole musical led to the point of Jesus’ crucifixion, and director Tee Quillen did not shy away from portraying the gravity of the message. His interpretation of Jesus’ death truly captured the loss and despair Jesus and his disciples must have felt. Judging by the sound of sniffling from the audience, I wasn’t the only one who was moved by this scene.

My one suggestion for the production is to create a better balance of sound. Every song had a soloist that was competing against nine other cast members and the band to be heard. This resulted in the soloist screeching the words instead of singing. Since every performer had microphones, the sound booth could have done a better job artificially creating a balance among the different voices. Of course, the performers are responsible to monitor the balance as well.

Overall, I thought this was a fun and upbeat interpretation of Matthew, from the humorous storytelling to the communion cups served during intermission. It’s not easy to contemporize something that is over 2,000 years old without compromising the message, but I feel the cast of “Godspell” did a great job.