A Worthy Godspell

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 27, 2012 6:00PM

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Stephanie Rohr ("Turn Back, O Man") and the ensemble from Godspell. Photo credit: Chad Shelton
If you’re looking for a glitzy, jazz hands-infused production of Stephen Schwartz’s cult musical Godspell, look elsewhere. Brown Paper Box Company’s production is refreshingly pared down and intimate, where a ragtag, come-as-you-are group of actor-slash-musicians come to breathe a little life into a few well-known Biblical parables. Instead, the company’s show sticks to its mission to create thoughtful, accessible theater that’s less an overproduced, flashy affair and more of a grassroots production, and the result is a wholly imperfect yet endearingly heartfelt show.

Godspell opens with a group of students working on a project who come across a few Biblical texts. Director M. William Panek has taken most of his creative license in the show’s opening; characters type on laptops, gaze at iPads or text incessantly before they start zany yet charming reenactments from the gospel of Matthew. Andrew Lund is an amiable Jesus, and one of the more vocally talented members of the cast, although many of them could benefit from a microphone. Even in that small room inside the Flat Iron Arts Building—with an appropriately sparse set resembling a makeshift library—some voices lacked the power to fill the room. And despite the absence of percussion, the ensemble works hard to keep the energy up—helped in large part by Schwartz’s terminally engaging score.

Panek has stripped the show of any of the ancillary elements found in the recent Broadway revival, helmed by Weeds star Hunter Parrish—you’ll find no vaudeville numbers or polished choreography. For a show that’s widely considered a rock musical, this production of Godspell is met by simple accompaniments on the guitar or piano. Jake Mahler, playing the dual role of John the Baptist and Judas, is a definite stand-out among a wholly talented cast. The charismatic Veronica Garza sings an impressive rendition of the musical’s best-known song, "Day by Day," and Michelle Limon’s "O Bless the Lord" is full of welcome momentum.

This production certainly isn’t for everyone, but with its relatable, charming cast and a production that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Godspell entertains as well as some big-box productions currently on stage.

September 20 - October 7, 2012 at Collaboraction Studio in the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N Milwaukee, Thursday-Saturdays 7:30p.m., Sundays 3 p.m., $20

By Melody Udell