The energetic version of “Godspell” being offered by St. Gregory’s Theatre Group is so of the moment, it’s hard to believe the show was written nearly 50 years ago.
Anyone who saw the original off-Broadway production would be hard-pressed to recognize it in its current rendering, which finds members of the cast tweeting and taking selfies on their cell phones and features references to Facebook, Donald Trump, Justin Bieber’s near deportation and Pop Tarts.
But the adaptability of the show, a musical based largely on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, has always been one of its strongest attributes.
Written by John-Michael Tebelak as a master’s thesis project, the show features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. It loosely revolves around a series of parables, told through skits and songs.
Friday night’s opening went off with nary a hitch. In the central role of Jesus, Steven Makropoulos was endearing and sang in a pure voice that suits the material snugly. Gregory Waldren, in the dual roles of John the Baptist and Judas, matched him vocally, offering particularly affecting renditions of the show’s opening and closing numbers, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” and “On the Willows.”
Melissa Corona did justice to the show’s best-known song, “Day by Day.” Deanna Mayo rocked “Learn Your Lessons Well,” which featured one of several lively dances.
A standout in the company was Matthew DiSiena, who was in a state of perpetual motion that began during an extended pre-show and continued until the final blackout.
Director Kathy Rollo Ferrara set the show in a children’s playground, complete with working swings and a seesaw.
The playing space takes over a large portion of the huge Gregorian Hall. During the prologue, cast members welcome the audience to the theater, coaxing several to join them on stage. Throughout, actors interplay with spectators.
That set, not incidentally, was meticulously designed by Todd Wilkerson.
Special mention must be made of a beautiful gazebo that serves as a platform for the hardworking members of the band, skillfully led by musical director Gia Gan.
Costume designer Marjorie Wilkerson whipped up a colorful array of appropriately youthful outfits.
The lighting designed by Joe Novak keeps everything in the proper mood.
Ferrara led a team of choreographers, whose contributions embellished several numbers, including “Bless the Lord” and “We Beseech Thee.” Disappointingly, the anticipated showstopper, “All for the Best,” barely registered.
All members of the cast, numbering around three dozen and including a broad range of ages and years of theatrical experience, are to be commended for their unbridled enthusiasm and total commitment from beginning to end.
This was the case even when stretches of the second act failed to live up to the admittedly superior first half of the show.