Sunday, October 10, 2010

Arts: ‘Godspell’ review

For Kalamazoo Gazette, 09-26-10
Civic sings the Word
“Godspell” has strong 2nd act

The Kalamazoo Civic’s production of “Godspell” starts off as Mardi gras. But it settles down and, by Act II, is as assured as the message the musical wants to convey.
Certainly the costumes get your attention right off. A cowboy hat, glittering vests, feathered wings, a multi-colored frock coat — costumes are to help tell the story, but it’s as if the Village People want to bring us the word of Matthew and Luke.

Some of the early songs also seem to be trying too hard. With “Tower of Babble,” for example, you can be forgiven for thinking maybe the lyrics are hard to make out, as an energetic cast paces about the stage, because, well, poor communication was the plot point of the Tower of Babel story.
But the words are tough to distinguish in “O, Bless the Lord” a few songs later, too.
Purple tights, mic’ed voices, vaudeville hoofing and an abundance of pop-culture jokes invoking “Charlie’s Angels,” Monty Python, “Green Acres” and cell phones — was someone afraid the 1970 show would be stale without some added tomfoolery?
But then, midway into Act I, Stefanie Holysz stands still and leads the company in “Day by Day.” Peaceful, sweet and sincere-sounding.
By Act II, the show moves on surer ground, simmered down. Among the strong spots are “By My Side,” which begins as a lyrical duet with Ashley Rafferty and Tamsen Glaser, sitting on some steps; and “We Beseech Thee,” with Anthony J. Hamilton’s fine voice inviting us to “come sing about love.”
Once this production finds its focus, it can handle the yucks, too: “Turn Back, O Man” is played as if sung by one of the taxi dancers from “Sweet Charity” — Kristen Utrecht sashays down the aisle, stroking and teasing some of men in the audience. Her robust voice, assisted by a honky-tonk keyboard from music director Lori Hatfield, provides the focus the song requires.
The lead also benefits by Act II’s steadier footing. Ken Holda has fewer lectures/sermons to deliver and, frankly, more acting to do.
While Act I sees Jesus jumping, doing magic tricks and smiling a joyful, ear-to-ear smile, Act II inexorably becomes more somber, and Holda, his character’s fate sealed, is clearly in charge.
Yes, it’s true, “Godspell” has its share of sermonizing. But what did you expect? It may seem like preaching to the choir, but then that’s why they have choir practice, after all.
“Godspell” continues through Oct. 10.

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