Godspell @ Saint Louis University

Godspell @ Saint Louis University


The theater department of Saint Louis University
recently presented “Godspell” in the revised version prepared for the 2011 Broadway revival. I saw the national tour based on that revival
when it played at the Peabody Opera House. In this version, the followers of Jesus were
no longer the troupe of clowns in the original “Godspell.” I wrote at the time that “I sensed no effort
by the actors to establish an identity for themselves other than as performers.” This was certainly not the case in the production
at SLU, which was directed by Stephanie Tennill. In her deeply thought out concept, the setting
of “Godspell” was a music therapy group where all are welcome. In the opening “Tower of Babble” number,
the performers captured the anxiety summoned up in college-age people like themselves when
they encounter competing philosophies of life. Some productions omit this scene. At SLU, it created a palpable sense of urgency
about the characters’ need for an answer. Never before in my experience has the opening
been so apt an introduction. The newly formed group then acts out parables
from the Gospels under the direction of their leader. The playfulness and the personal touches in
these episodes fit perfectly into the context of a music therapy session. So did the presence of musicians onstage. They were a part of the therapy, and they
took requests. The band played beautifully under music director
Jon Garret. The SLU cast was excellent. Blake Howard was a charismatic leader as Jesus. Ross Rubright captured both the joyfulness
of John the Baptist and the increasing discontent of Judas. The ensemble had great fun bringing the parables
to life, and each member took full advantage of the opportunity to shine in an individual
number. In alphabetical order, the performers were:
Haley Dirkes-Jacks in “Learn Your Lessons Well”
Gretchen Dudley in “Bless the Lord” Jackson Gress in “We Beseech Thee”
Ryan Higgins in “All Good Gifts” Reed McLean in “Day by Day”
Molly Meyer in “Turn Back, O Man” Mary Nink in “By My Side” and
Caleb Vetter in “Light of the World” The exuberance of the characters was vividly
reflected in Lou Bird’s costumes and Samantha Gaitsch’s choreography. Dan Giedeman’s set design, David LaRose’s
lighting, and Casey Hunter’s sound together created a flexible environment that fit the
changing requirements of the script. The needs of the ending were encompassed in
ways that were unexpected but highly effective. The performance we saw ended with a heartfelt
curtain speech suggesting that the bonding in this production wasn’t just on stage.

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