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NY Theater Reviews

Ph: Jeremy Daniel

BIG LOVE

By BILL STEVENSON

Although this production might be overdone, the cast gives these numbers the big, spirited singing they deserve.

The revival of Stephen Schwartz's Godspell, playing next door to his blockbuster Wicked, is as rambunctious and energetic as any show on Broadway. Sometimes the staging, by director Daniel Goldstein and choreographer Christopher Gattelli, is a bit too spirited. Nearly every solo turns into a big dance number by the whole cast. Fortunately, the production slows down at times in the second act, which lets the audience better appreciate the young cast's fine singing.
 
The only well-known face in the 10-member ensemble is Hunter Parrish (who plays the son on Weeds and replaced Jonathan Groff in Spring Awakening on Broadway) as Jesus. He seems right at home on stage, flashing a winning smile and displaying a wholesome, unaffected singing voice. He's at his best during "Beautiful City," a song from the movie version of Godspell that is one of the quieter second-act numbers. Earlier in the act, though, the blaring electric guitars and drums nearly drown him out during "Alas for You." (The musicians are scattered around the theater in the audience, except for pianist-music director Charlie Alterman, who is seated in the stage.)
 
Parrish's fellow cast mates, some making their Broadway debuts, also sing beautifully. Telly Leung does a gorgeous rendition of "All Good Gifts." He also teams up with big-voiced Lindsay Mendez for a reprise of "Learn Your Lessons Well" at the end of the intermission. Mendez's powerful "Bless the Lord" is a highpoint of act one, even if Gatelli's antic choreography is somewhat distracting. Similarly, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle shows off her lovely voice on "Day by Day" only to be nearly upstaged once it becomes a group number. On the other hand, having the whole cast bounce off of mini trampolines gives a lift to "We Beseech Thee," featuring Nick Blaemire. That follows a haunting rendition of "By My Side" by Uzo Aduba and company. Later, Wallace Smith as Judas contributes a nicely understated "On the Willows." Michael Holland's orchestrations give Schwartz's score more of a rock edge than it had when it opened on Broadway back in 1971.
 
With so many catchy songs performed by a talented cast, Godspell doesn't really need to be updated. But directors Goldstein and Schwartz have inserted contemporary jokes and new lyrics to bring the show up to date. The show opens with cast members texting on cell phones, and there are references to Lindsay Lohan, Donale Trump, L. Ron Hubbard and Broadway shows (including Wicked) that don't add much. Perhaps the jokes were added to appeal to audience members who are too jaded to enjoy the Biblical parables that are at the heart of the show. In any case, the production is both jokier and busier than it needs to be.
 
Goldstein does make excellent use of the cozy Circle in the Square, having the actors interacting with members of the audience and enlisting a couple of them to come onstage to play Charades and Pictionary. Audience participation is overdone on Broadway, but it works well in this theater and in this show.
 
Still, the major selling points of this revival are the evergreen songs and the cast's terrific singing. Fans of the often-staged Godspell will have a good time, and they should consider buying the cast album when it's released in January.