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GODSPELL revival at Lancaster Opera House shows the start of WICKED’s Stephen Schwartz.

THE BASICS:  GODSPELL, the musical by Stephen Schwartz (PIPPIN, WICKED) directed by Kevin Leary, starring Kyle Baran, Timothy Goehrig, Adam Kluge, Kathleen Macari, Nathan Andrew Miller, Lisa Noelle Miller, Lorenzo Parnell, Heather Reed, Valerie Stevens, and Chrissy Vogric-Hunnell opened April 21st and runs through May 7th, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:30 at the Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave., Lancaster (683-1776). www.lancopera.org

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Another 1970 bible-based musical in the vein of (in the shadow of, in my opinion) Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice shows JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. Originating in 1970 at Carnegie Mellon University, the producers had Stephen Schwartz rewrite the GODSPELL score before it went to Broadway. Although it does open with John baptizing Jesus and closes with the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, it’s not a plot driven show. It’s almost a sketch revue, with quick switches of scenes, musical genres, and styles as it portrays the often-enigmatic parables of Jesus.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This production is very well directed, choreographed, costumed, acted, sung, music-directed, full of absolute non-stop swirling action and the audience on the first Sunday afternoon performance packed the house and had a wonderful time. Everyone connected with the performance should be very proud. And if you have fond memories of GODSPELL, whether you saw it back in the 70s, or your high school or college put it on, then you should go.

However, I, myself, don’t care for GODSPELL much or PIPPIN either, not that you asked. Both of those shows seem to me incredibly dated, capitalizing on the zeitgeist of the late 1960s, early 1970s. We had come through several gut-wrenching assassinations and were embroiled in the War in Vietnam, we had lost faith in our government, and America seemed resolutely divided between “left” and “right.” Sounds just like today, no? So you’d think that GODSPELL and PIPPIN would seem more relevant, but not for me. I guess I just don’t “get” early Stephen Schwartz. So why did I even go?

I went because last month I was at a small cabaret at MusicalFare when Buffalo’s Charmagne Chi sang “I’m not that girl” from Stephen Schwartz’s WICKED. And even though I’d seen WICKED at Shea’s, and it was entertaining, when she sang that ballad, I was a puddle. A puddle. So, I thought, maybe I should revisit Mr. Schwartz. Nah. It didn’t work. Charmagne that evening was that girl, but GODSPELL isn’t that musical.

But that’s my problem. Having said that, highlights for me included Lorenzo Parnell (most recently seen in Buffalo Opera Unlimited’s THE FALL OF STAG LEE) who has a fine clear voice and a clarity of diction that is critical in a show that is so text based. Another standout was Adam Kluge who, according to the program, is still in high school. He can sing, act, dance, and (rare for young performers), stay in character all the time. I tell you, these kids today.

It was nice to see Heather Reed on stage again, although I would have appreciated a bigger voice for the only (to me) memorable song, made popular in 1973 by The 5TH Dimension, “Day by Day.” Unfortunately, GODSPELL just isn’t as good as Webber and Rice’s JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. The “Day by Day” equivalent in SUPERSTAR is “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” but with Webber and Rice we also get “Pilate’s Dream,” and “What’s the Buzz” not to mention “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Bam!

Speaking of a bigger voice, at the very start of GODSPELL, we hear the “Voice of God,” but it sounded a little light. Later in the show, Kyle Baran’s (Jesus) amplified voice is manipulated, why not right away? By the way, Mr. Baran does an admirable job, trying to keep things rolling, but the show gets very bible-study heavy in the middle, and even his talents struggle.

Everyone on stage was good, as mentioned, but I’d say my favorite was Kathleen Macari ( who has some really nice credits in her bio). At the start of the musical, each actor portrays a famous philosopher or theologist, and Kathleen, with black Goth lipstick and heavy mascara, portrayed American Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, famous for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” That was inspired casting/direction. I laughed out loud. Macari later used her comic chops as she sang “Turn Back, O Man.”

The production is high caliber (Four Buffalos) but the play (to me) is problematic (Two Buffalos) so I’ll split the difference at Three Buffalos.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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