THEATER REVIEW: Updated ‘Godspell reveals Barn’s talents

Theater Barn / ‘Godspell’

“DAY BY DAY BY Day By Day By Day By…,” “O Bless the Lord O Bless the Lord, O Bless the…”. Sometimes it may seem as if the musical “Godspell” is lyrically deprived or, like much pop music of today, afflicted with some sort of repetition disease. But composer Stephen Schwartz is also an award-winning lyricist, so I guess repetition is simply okay, okay, okay.

Schwartz is probably known by younger folk via community theater and school productions of “Godspell,” “Pippin,” and perhaps from a trip to NYC to see the long-running “Wicked.”

Having witnessed the original production of “Godspell” in the early ’70s, plus a few iterations since, I was unprepared for the musical sophistication of this 2012-revised version. It is as if Stephen Schwartz grew up to be a composer! The original tunes (pleasant, but not inspiring) have acquired a subtler underlining of their modal natures, an added intertwining, and lots of new harmonic underpinnings with stinging harmonic surprises.

At the Theater Barn, Abe Phelps’ set is a huge graffiti backdrop of warm and hot-colored words, numbers, hearts, curls and lines. It’s a lively, joyous, child-friendly soup. In its center is a white space encircling the sword-like figure combining the Greek letters chi and rho sometimes called “The Monogram of Christ.” In front of it are gray platforms creating nice unobtrusive levels for actor-display.

The cast of “Godspell” performs at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon through August 20. Reserve seats at 518 794-8989. Photo contributed

In Act 1, biblical prescriptions for how human beings should live follow one another quickly. They are so dotted with funny anachronisms that the effect is, “We are not quite serious about this. We are having a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun at the expense of traditional preachers and Sunday-school teachers.”

And before intermission the pop dancing is relentless. Every number blossoms with happy, group-y energy and a compelling beat from music director Alan Schlichting’s excellent quartet.

After intermission, the pace slows. Tongues retreat from cheeks. People on stage and in front of it witness Jesus’ all-too-real, dread-laced goodbyes at the Last Supper.

At the Theater Barn these young Bible inhabitors are all beautiful in very different ways; and most of them can sing, dance and act with almost equal proficiency. Standouts are Andrew Pace as Judas and John the Baptist, Megan Koumis with her loveliness and rangy voice, and of course Zack Zaromatidis as Jesus–warm, but cool enough to know exactly who he is.

In Act 1 direction by Trey Compton, exaggeration rules, and only Zaromatidis’ Jesus stands a bit apart from it. Compton has put musical instruments in the arms of the actors, but it does not seem to add much to the sound or to the narrative. However, his handling of the groups in this group-heavy show is full of variety and attractive togetherness. In the heartbreaking Last Supper scene, two red paper cups for the wine are a smile-making reminder of Act 1 attitudes. Only death-by-electric-guitar threatens to sabotage the tragic story.

Don Sweener’s sound is unnecessarily aggressive. The production would have just as much dramatic impact if volume didn’t blow so hard.

As for quality, with very little tweaking, these actors, this band, this director/choreographer—well, the entire production could easily relocate to West Forty-Fifth Street.

“Godspell” runs through August 20. Reserve seats at 518 794-8989.

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