‘Godspell’ Electrifies In The Park

August 9, 2021

“Godspell” cast – Courtesy of Michael Camp. Used with permission.

An occupational hazard of operating as a local reviewer for as long as I have is seeing the same plays and musicals multiple times. Depending on the quality of the production, it’s not really a chore because I never tire of some shows. It’s like re-reading a favorite book and enjoying it once again. Such was the case when I saw “Godspell” on Friday at The Park, the outdoor venue on Illinois Street, just west of the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre. Considered by many to be an old chestnut, the musical was composed by Stephen Schwartz, with music by John-Michael Tebelak. Opening off-Broadway in 1971, the show has since been produced by multiple touring companies and in many revivals, including one in 2011 than ran on Broadway for over a year. The production on Friday was presented by Eclipse, a program of Summer Stock Stage, developed for its alumni. Anyone who reads my blog has seen my mostly rave reviews of past SSS and Eclipse shows and knows how supportive I am of the groups’ efforts.

Mathias Gonzalez – Courtesy of Michael Camp. Used with permission.

It’s hard to imagine there are still some people who haven’t seen either a high school, college, community theatre or professional production of “Godspell,” but in case not, here is a snapshot synopsis: Structured as a series of parables, the musical is based on the Gospel of Matthew. The parables are weaved throughout the music, which is set to lyrics from traditional hymns, with the passion of Christ appearing briefly near the end of the show. A favorite of Christians, even those of other faiths and non-believers can relate to the positive messages the show imparts.

What set this particular production apart from others was Brandon Hank’s solid direction, distinctive performances, caliber of talent, exceptional vocal and dance execution overseen by choreographer Mariel Greenlee and music director Michael Berg Raunick, and unbridled energy of the cast. The outstanding ensemble included Matias Gonzalez as Jesus and Logan Mortier as John the Baptist/Judas. Others featured were Olivia Broadwater, Da’Keisha Bryant, Matthew Conwell, Natalie Fischer, Jackie Gundaker, Chase Infiniti, Mark Maxwell and Julia Murphy.

If there is anything consistent about Eclipse, it is the uniformly excellent casting choices. In the case of “Godspell,” director Brandon Hanks pulled off a coup in selecting this group of young professionals.  Turning in performances that remain memorable for their vividness are Gonzalez, who was a force of nature with compelling and often intense stage presence as Jesus, Gundaker, who soloed in “Turn Back, O Man,” Conwell and Broadwater, who shined in their “Learn Your Lessons Well” reprise, and Maxwell who lit up the stage with his likability and effortless movement.

Seeing multiple productions of the same work also means I see different interpretations of the script and unique staging. When it comes to “Godspell,” I have seen the characters dressed as clowns and hippies, and even saw a production in which the setting was “The Jerry Springer Show.” I kid you not. As far as the Eclipse production, costuming designed by Anthony James Sirk, assisted by Allison Jones, was off-beat and fanciful, reflecting the playfulness of the characters.

Finally, kudos go out to scenic artist Kyle Ragsdale, lighting designer Quinten James and Zach Rosing for his sound design, who together created a rich, textured environment for this timeless story that continues to resonate with audiences who are inspired by its message of faith, hope and charity.






photo: Josh Humble

About Tom

Journalist, producer, director, Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, arts administrator, TV contributor, actor, model, writer and lyricist, Tom Alvarez has had an extensive career in media and the fine arts and continues to be an enthusiastic and devoted fan of both. His passion and unique background grant him insight, access and perspective to cover, promote and review the arts in Indianapolis, Central Indiana and beyond. Follow him on social media @tomalvarezartswriter and @tomalvarez1.

Alvarez has been writing about theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts for 40 years. His work has appeared in the Indianapolis Star, NUVO, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana, Unite Magazine, Dance Magazine, NOTE Magazine, and Examiner.com, among many other print and online platforms. A former contributor to Across Indiana on WFYI-TV, he currently has a regular performing arts segment on WISH-TV’s Indy Style.

A principal of Klein & Alvarez Productions, LLC, Alvarez co-created “Calder, The Musical” and is the managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret. As an actor-model, he has appeared in numerous TV and print ads and is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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One Comment

  1. Joseph Lilley said...

    Godspell is a fantastic musical but my all time has to be Pippin! I’m OLD, Ha ha! Also there is NOTHING like seeing a performance outside if the weather is beautiful!!

    August 12, 2021 at 10:06 am | link to this reply to this

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