IBJOpinion

LOU'S VIEWS: Pleasures of 'Godspell' are in the details

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lou Harry
"Godspell" actor Brandon Alstott at Actors Theatre of Indiana Actors Theatre of Indiana performs “Godspell” with Brandon Alstott as Jesus. (Photo Courtesy Actors Theatre of Indiana)

It is said (by me, if not by anyone else) that there are two kinds of people in this world of ours: those who prefer “Godspell” and those who prefer “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

The two musicals share source material but differ drastically in their approaches. While the former is more summer camp in its energy and sound, the latter focuses on rock ’n’ roll angst. And while “Superstar” offers a grim Jesus and is concerned with the final days of his life on Earth, “Godspell” features a more benevolent martyr energetically sharing his parables.

While a director’s vision certainly can make one “Superstar” different from another, “Godspell” is by far the more flexible show. Actors Theatre of Indiana’s current production (running through Feb. 26 at the Studio Theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts) is dramatically different from others I’ve seen or read about. And it’s those details—combined with the core pleasures of the material—that make any production of “Godspell” worthwhile.

In an arts world where “appealing to a younger audience” seems to be the mantra, perhaps the gutsiest choice by ATI was to not cast the show entirely with actors around 20. Yes, this does lend a “Cougar Town” quality to the teasing song “Turn Back O Man,” but it also gives this take an added sense of melancholy and universality. This Jesus isn’t just preaching to kids. And his apostles aren’t blank slates to write on but, rather, people who have experienced life already.

"Godspell" at Actors Theatre of Indiana Actors Theatre of Indiana sets its “Godspell” in a bar where Jesus finds his apostles. (Photo Courtesy Actors Theatre of Indiana)

The set, too, is creatively different. I’ve seen “Godspell” set in parks, on fishing wharfs, and in churches, but I haven’t seen one set in a bar. As the show opens, there’s a hint of “The Iceman Cometh” as Jesus enters a world peopled with characters in need of redemption and community. The blowing of the traditional shofar, which usually leads into the opening number, is replaced by the feedback from a microphone deliberately placed too close to a speaker. Nice touch.

The club atmosphere makes the transitions from story to song smooth, and the music is handled smartly throughout by Brent Marty and his band. There are mercifully only a few moments when the show is played awkwardly cute (something I think “Superstar” fans fear of “Godspell”) and the positive vibe of the show is palpable.

For me, the test of any “Godspell” comes in the “On the Willows” sequence where Jesus says goodbye to his disciples. Done well, these goodbyes each highlight a special connection between the savior and each of the saved. Not all of them pop here—blame that in part on a Jesus who lacks gravitas (think early Brendan Frasier). But the confusion captured by Claire (Claire Wilcher), Judy’s (Judy Fitzgerald) palpable sense of loss for the one person who valued her, and Paul’s (Paul D. Nicely) refusal to accept what’s happening all ring particularly powerful and true.


Last year in these pages, I wrote of the pleasures of sitting in on Ball State University theater department classes led by Broadway star Sutton Foster (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Shrek”). With sharp insight, gentle guidance and a best-big-sister-in-the-world approach, she managed to help transform good performances into outstanding ones by bringing the work from within the singing actors, not imposing ideas on them.

This year, with Foster winning a Tony Award for the still-running “Anything Goes” revival on Broadway—and with her TV pilot picked up as a series—I didn’t expect Muncie to be included in her travel plans. Skipping this year would be perfectly understandable.

But there she was, at opening night of Ball State Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” humbly being pulled up for a curtain call by the company she co-directed.

"The Drowsy Chaperone" at Ball State University Andy Pickerill and Allison Sill are among those Ball State actors benefitting from working with Broadway star Sutton Foster on “The Drowsy Chaperone.” (Photo Courtesy Ball State University)

She had every right to be proud—as did her directing cohort Bill Jenkins, chairman of the theater department, and the talented company. In a show that celebrates stock characters, you’d think one solid production would be as effective as another. But having raved about the version staged by Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre in the fall, I was happy to see the Ball State crew making new, funny discoveries in the musical comedy.

I may be reading into it, but these grace notes seem to have the Foster imprint—small moments where the performers take the audience from pleasure to bliss with a small gesture or pause. I was particularly enamored with the work of Alison Sill as the knowing chaperone, Katie Mazzini as a wonderfully absent-minded Mrs. Tottendale, and—in the role Foster played on Broadway—Betsy Farrar as the bride, Janet. There’s a distinct pleasure you get when a comedic actor isn’t just working the punch lines, but creating joy just by being onstage. Despite some audio mixing problems (the talented orchestra too often drowned out the accomplished actors), this was a “Chaperone” well worth the drive. It provided even more evidence that Ball State should be on the radar of any central Indiana theater lover—or any theatrical casting director looking for young talent.•

ADVERTISEMENT

  • No Men?
    Nice summary of the Ball State production of "The Drowsy Chaperone", but from reading your piece, it appears that Ms. Foster's touch only made contact with some of the key women characters in the show. None of the men merited mention, not even the ubiquitous Man in Chair?

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Uh, sorry Johnnie, but you are incorrect. Despite the assertions by yourself and various defenders and captains, sports attendance is NOT off significantly at most sporting events in the US. Variances in attendance has been in the range of single digits, both + & - for years now. MLB has had most of its best overall attendance nubers in the last decade, and that trend has been consistent for most major sporting events. The number one issue cited by most fans when asked about attendance is the overall cost of attending. The presence of HD and big screen televisions in home doesn't even register, as a factor for not attending an event. VALUE in the product is the key, and apparently is something lacking in the current ICS. What other explanation is there when with what is routinely touted as the "best" racing on the planet, fans are staying away in DROVES. A "close" title battle into the last event at Fontana, with the "cars and stars" of the ICS, and who showed up? MAYBE 8K. Sorry, but HD TV isn't to blame for that kind of fan apathy.

  2. Do you need finance to establish your business ? Are you interested in getting a loan at 3% from our private company? If so please Email: suntrust_oil@blumail.org

  3. If she was worth the $ the public outcry over direct tv dropping them would have kept them on their dishes as we have seen with other companies. I too quit watching channel 13 after she showed up since I left channel 8 because of her all show rather than production results. When Randy on 8 corrected her she had a big head and incorrectly challenged his correction for pronunciation of a city. Other antics while she matures was too much for me with her very inaccurate forecasts. All the forecasters were predicting rain until Thursday except Chris. They predicted sunny on Thursday but instead of rain until Thursday upon which the sun would finally make it out in full glory Chris was right on the money just as I too predicted looking at the radar on weather.gov. One thing I love about Angela is the fear you can see in her every time it thunders in the winter. It far exceeds the entertainment value of her body language (high heel noise drags, depression, etc) when her forecasts are so incorrect. Her hair stands on end, you have to see it!!!

  4. Good Day, Apply For A Loan I am Mr Fernadez Antonio, a private Loan lender and a cooperate financial for real estate and any kinds of business financing. I also offer Loans to individuals, Firms and cooperate bodies at 3% interest rate We offer any kind of loans. email us via fernadezloaninvest@outlook.com LOAN APPLICATION FORM First name:......................... Middle name:......................... Last name:........................................ Date of birth (yyyy-mm-dd):....................... Gender:........................................... Marital status:................................... Total Amount Needed............................... Loan Duration.................................... Address:.......................................... City:............................................. State/province:................................... Zip/postal code:.................................. Country:.......................................... Phone:............................................ Fax:.............................................. Mobile/cellular:.................................. Monthly Income.................................... Occupation:....................................... Best Regard, Mr Fernadez Antonio.

  5. i will love to share my testimony to you all the people in world i got married to my husband about 2 year ago we start having problems at home like we stop sleeping on the same bed,fighting about little things he always comes home late at night,drinking too much and sleeping with other women out side i have never love any man in my life except him. he is the father of my child and i don't want to loose him because we have worked so hard together to become what we are and have today .few month ago he now decided to live me and the kid,being a single mother can be hard sometimes and so i have nobody to turn to and i was heart broken.i called my mom and explain every thing to her,my mother told me about DR.okoro how he helped her solve the problem between her and my dad i was surprise about it because they have been without each other for three and a half years and it was like a miracle how they came back to each other. i was directed to DR. okoro on his email:okorospell@gmail.com and explain everything to him,so he promise me not to worry that he will cast a spell and make things come back to how we where so much in love again and that it was another female spirit that was controlling my husband he told me that my problem will be solved within two days if i believe i said OK So he cast a spell for me and after two days my love came back asking me to forgive him i Am so happy now. so that why i decided to share my experience with every body that have such problem contact Dr okoro the great spell caster on his email addresses spellcasterforlove@outlook.com

ADVERTISEMENT