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The Vagabond Players Godspell

By • Oct 18th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Godspell by Stephen Schwartz
The Vagabond Players
Vagabond Theatre, Baltimore, MD
Through November 13th
2:15 with intermission
$20/Discounts available
Reviewed October 15th, 2011

Godspell literally tells the story of the Gospel according to Matthew. The stories are the same, and much of the dialogue and song lyrics are either direct quotes or near paraphrases to that particular book of the Bible. The parables and teachings of Jesus are infused with an uplifting score by Stephen Schwartz. The script is also constructed in such a way that the director and/or cast can add a series of planned ad libs, as well as modernizing some of the characters and references. Directors often use Godspell as an opportunity to create a unique vision and put their own unique mark on the production. At the heart, however, is the underlying story of the disciples’ joy and devotion at the teachings of Jesus, and the unique mix of despair and ultimate joy that comes with the crucifixion and resurrection.

In Director Eric J. Potter’s vision, the events take place in a theater. It begins with four young kids that have come to vandalize the theater but are stopped by the voice of Jesus. At this point, the adult ensemble enters dressed in all black with white theatre masks for the opening “Prologue/Tower of Babel.” The adult ensemble is over-the-top and caricatured, but, since this number represents the splintered world and various theories of the universe apart from the Gospel, it works for this number. It did not work as well when the over-the-top performances continued throughout the show.

Potter’s vision was that each parable was intertwined with a parody of a different Broadway musical. This began with the four children holding headshots in front of their face ala A Chorus Line and continued with at least twelve distinct show references, including costumes, props, and pieces of song lyrics intertwined with the parables. Potter’s Godspell was distinctly an homage to hallmarks of musical theater filled with larger-than-life, sometimes self-indulgent performances. There is definitely an audience that will take delight in the various allusions.

However, this is a case where the extras take away from the heart of the story. The focus is musical theater rather than the Gospel. Even during the crucifixion, the performances are over-the-top in a way that leaves dry eyes in house; something that should not happen at that point in the production. Throughout, the actors seem to enjoy performing and story-telling, but there is no noticeable connection to the emotional weight of the material. They break the fourth wall in a way that they are performing to the audience, rather than discipling the audience. Rather than hanging on Jesus’s every word and learning as they go, they seem to be merely players putting on a show.

With many impressive voices and charismatic personalities, it is hard to fault the performers for bringing life to what was obviously the director’s vision. Still, there were a few people who were able to stand out and really bring some heart to the production. The absolute best thing about the production was Dan McQuay (Jesus). In a sea of over-the-top performances, he was refreshingly real and genuine. He was able to speak with deep authority without ever being assertive. He was an absolutely perfect embodiment of Jesus: loving, strong, commanding of attention, and all without ever working for it. Another thoroughly impressive performance came from Matt Demetrides. He was strong and interesting in his character choices in a way that drew the audience’ eyes, but without being inauthentic or seemingly deliberate in his choices. He was really alive in the moment. He also possessed a skilled ability to show both great skepticism and great love for Jesus without even saying a word. As young as he was, Demetrides would actually have made a perfect Judas. It should be noted that the other children were very cute as well and definitely underplayed things more than the adults. It would have been nice to see them featured even more. The third really impressive performance came from Eileen Aubele. She was a rock of calm and tranquility in the midst of the circus. Her reactions and love of learning were genuine, simply underplayed, and perfect for the production. Her rendition of “By My Side” was hauntingly beautiful with her rich alto and earnest performance. The beauty of all three of these performances was that they did not lack any of the energy and enthusiasm of the rest of the cast. They were still high-energy, but they didn’t seem to be trying too hard.

The set, lighting, costumes, and many props all showed a lot of attention to detail and were well-designed to continue to represent the directorial vision. The entire production was definitely reflective of a strong vision, for better and worse.

If you are looking for an over-the-top, parody-like, tribute to the great shows of musical theatre, then this is the production for you. If you are looking for the heart of the Gospel that is the story of Godspell, it is better to look elsewhere.

Cast

  • Jesus: Dan McQuay
  • Judas/John the Baptist: Darren McDonnell
  • Adult Ensemble: Sarah Ford Gorman, J Hargrove, Susannah Hurlburt, Maggie McQuay, Shannon M. Montague, Brandon Shaw, Lauren Spencer-Harris
  • Youth Ensemble: Olivia Aubele, Matt Demetrides, Rachel Miller, Zach Miller

Production Staff

  • Director: Eric J. Potter
  • Musical Director: Douglas Byerly
  • Choreographer: Ilona Kessell
  • Stage Manager/Booth Tech: Margie Lake
  • Running Crew: Brian Miller, Peggy Witowski, Dennis Witowski
  • Lighting/Sound Design: Ed Lake
  • Costume Design: Marie Rogers
  • Set Design: Tony Colavito
  • Set Construction: Tony Colavito, Jay Demarco, Fred Mainolfi
  • Scenic Artistry: Tony Colavito, Laura Miller
  • Poster/Program: Barb Gehring
  • Box Office: Pat David
  • For the Vagabonds: Barb Gehring, Ann Mainolfi

Band

  • Conductor/Keyboards: Doug Byerly
  • Asst. Conductor/Keyboards: Nick Zurowski
  • Guitar/Drums: Jason Barteck
  • Bass: Matt Henry
  • Drums: Frank Speciale

Disclaimer: The Vagabond Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musicals for use in church.

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