Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Godspell—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego

“…And a Child Shall Lead Them”

This rock musical from the early 70’s is written by John-Michael Tebelak, music by Stephen Schwartz, directed and choreographed by Michael Snider, with music direction by Cyndy Ramsey-Rier.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego (plenty of parking at the rear of the building), through June 11th.  For more information, go to their site at www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

This was the era of “Hair” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” too.  It was a time of protest, both against the war in Nam and also for the Civil Rights of individuals in this country.  The time was ripe for revolution, as it was some 2,000 years ago.  And the setting (designed by the, always marvelous, John Gerth) is a playground, also appropriate, as they (and possibly us) will, through a child’s eyes at the dawning of curiosity, (re)discover possibly, through games, the Purpose of Life.

The stories, parables, are not unlike Aesop’s fables, where a lesson is taught in the pleasant guise of a children’s tale.  And the teachings are straight out of the New Testaments of Matthew and Luke.  Mind you, I never thought I was being preached to, as I hate that, but being gently exposed to other possibilities.  In these turbulent times, with the World on pins and needles, it might heed the warning in one of the songs offered here:  “Turn back, O man, and mend thy foolish ways!”  Amen.

The stories are presented in all manner of ways, assumedly so that they are easily understood by even a child.  The tales are exposed in short shifts and range from Improv to Vaudevillian, from a Circus atmosphere to child’s games, from Game shows to finger puppets, and everything in-between.  The parallel story that is also told is that of Christ’s final days, touching on his Baptism, the Sermon on the Mount, the confrontation with the Pharisees, conflicts with the Roman lords, the Last Supper, and, of course, the Crucifixion.

The music, songs and dances run the gamut, too, from ballads to Rap, from Rock & Roll to hard rock, from soft shoe to synchronized dances.  And it all works beautifully.  My own personal favorite number is, “All For the Best,” lead by Jesus (Benjamin Tissell), and Judas (Brock Bivens), who do a super job with the catchy lyrics and soft shoe.  (Note, Alec Cameron Lugo’s strong voice is in the Chorus and played Jesus in four productions of this show.)  There is also the haunting, and probably the most recognizable song from the show, “Day By Day,” sung touchingly by Kelly Sina.  And Tasha Danner is movingly expressive with, “Learn Your Lessons Well.”

Jorie Jones and Joey Cóté both lead well rousing numbers, she with, “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul” and he with, “We Beseech Thee.”  Another quiet moment, led softly by Amanda Pred was, “Side By Side.”  Also, Jeremy Sloane and Colin Stephen Kane lead them nicely in the moody, “On the Willows.”  “All Good Gifts” had the powerful voice of Alexander Salazar to lead the chorus.    And Clara-Liis Hillier, always a welcome addition to any cast, gave us the vampish vixen in her sexy rendition of, “Turn Back, O Man.”

Snider has done an amazing job of casting the show and creating all the intricate details, as well as the dances, that lend to much of the success of this production.  And Lakewood always manages to get some of the best singers and dancers in the area, as the cast is extraordinary on all counts!  The band, too, led by Ramsey-Rier, is spot on with the various types of music (as well as sound effects) and does not overpower the actors (which many bands of musicals often tend to do).

I did overhear one audience member asking her friend whether she thought this show would be appropriate for children.  Personally, I think it is (depending, of course, on parental religious viewpoints), as the stories really focus on compassion, tolerance, and acceptance for all individuals, something future generations should embrace in their education, as the current generation seems to have “misplaced” or lost track of them.  Also, the tales are told in entertaining ways, both for Youth and Adults.

A special shout-out, also, to Steve Knox, the current producer, who is one of those many unsung heroes behind the scenes of shows.  He, himself, has a long history of involvement with the performing arts and is a fine director, as I can attest to, as he directed a reading of one of my plays at Lakewood with Youth and did a super job of it.  Would like to see more of his directing efforts at some point, hint-hint.

I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.