Prepare Ye For Something Totally Unexpected With Mac-Haydn’s Godspell
Godspell, a collection of parables primarily based on the Gospel of Matthew, is not your parent’s New Testament. As a matter of fact, the Godspell currently being performed at Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham is not even, in many ways, the Godspell of the 1970s. Director Trey Compton has completely reimagined the production. Updating it from the early 1970s, Compton has placed it squarely in 2023. The show’s Prologue begins with the players, all in contemporary dress, all on their cell phones, texting one another. The cacophonous din ultimately becomes the Tower of Babel.
The cast of ten, eight characters who sing and act out the parables, and Jesus and Judas make up the cast. The stage is plain, with a few rolling carts that serve a multitude of uses throughout. Some props and costume enhancements create the world of Jesus at the end of his life. What Compton has done with this production is make it all appear very light, breezy, and relaxed. The added allusions to the script that update it seem quite appropriate as asides to the audience and appear very much off the cuff. The parable that has been turned into a scene from The Bachelor is exceptionally well done, relatable, and funny.
Choreographer Elizabeth McGuire, Sean McGinley’s sound, and lighting by Eoghan Hartley and Andrew Gmoser all create a very circusy atmosphere, a nod to the show’s original concept. In particular, the lighting is most engaging and creates some very visually exciting moments. Costumer Angela Carstensen has replaced the traditional Superman shirt for Jesus, presenting him in a more preppy white tee, khaki pants, and jean jacket. We see images of the Byzantine Cross subtly incorporated into Carstensen’s designs.
Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics have become classics. Prepare Ye, Save the People, Day by Day, All for the Best, Light of the World, and Beautiful City (which were added for the film version and ultimately put into subsequent revivals of the play) are just some of the songs that a multitude of artists have recorded.
Working with a small cast, every performer is given their moment or two or three to shine, and shine they do. Stephanie Prestage’s Day by Day is stirring and moving. Bella DePaola offers a gutsy, seductive rendition of Turn Back, O Man. Matthew Harper Stevenson offers up a very heartfelt Light of the World. Amber Mawande-Spytek, like many of the cast, returns to the Mac stage to offer her exceptional talents to the production. Jack Koch presents an exceptional We Beseech Thee. Rounding out the ensemble players in fine form are Cydney Gleckner, Kassi McMillan, and Anthony Velez.
Like the Gospel of Matthew, however, the show belongs to Jesus and Judas. Mac-Haydn vets, Conor Fallon and Andrew Burton Kelley have masterfully grabbed the reins of the two icons. We watch Kelley’s Judas, the conflicted, torn, confident-turned-betrayer, as his character goes from friend to foe. His strong voice plays a wonderful counterpoint to Fallon’s in All for the Best, but his heartbreaking rendition of On the Willows leaves you moved. Conor Fallon never waivers as the Son of God. Well aware of the fate that awaits at the play’s end, he never loses the humanity of his character or the joy that inhabits his role. Fallon is much like the ringmaster of a very complex circus. Whether you are a Christian, Jew, atheist, or someone who practices another religion, his performance will move you to tears, from his stirring rendition of Save the People at the show’s beginning to his wrenching finale. As a whole, this cast has risen to the complex simplicity that the show demands.
Once again, Mac-Haydn has surprised. They have gone out on a limb to present their audience with something that is perhaps out of their comfort zone and beyond what they expect. The show is exciting, fun, sad, and thought-provoking. It is not about religion as much as it is about the storytelling and the music. Enjoy a change and see why everything old can be new again.
Godspell runs through August 13 at The Mac-Haydn Theatre, Chatham. For ticket information: www.machaydntheatre.org or call the box office: 518-392-9292.