A teen cast for South Valley Civic Theatre’s production of Stephen Schwartz’s 1971 off-Broadway hit “Godspell” may be the most genius theater decision ever, as their youthful exuberance spills off the stage in brightly colored paisley waves.
At the heart of this pop-rock musical are the most feel-good of the parables of Jesus, mostly from the Gospel of Matthew, told by Andy Gonzalez as Jesus. His enthusiastic young followers respond with fun, uptempo songs as they dance through a brightly-colored playground, complete with swings and slide. Interestingly, many of the songs’ lyrics come from the Episcopal Church hymnal.
Gonzalez, who at 19 is at the top of the teen cast’s age range, brings a grounded maturity to the role, and his voice is just to die for. Sporting a creditable Afro, he beams a near-constant benevolent smile as he coaxes his disciples out of their old ways of thinking and into the new teachings he brings, along with new behaviors—primary, of course, being the commandments to love God and your neighbor. In the second act, he grows more frustrated with his followers’ seeming lack of understanding of the point he’s trying to make, especially as he recognizes his own time running out and the long road ahead for the new Christians. There’s a bit of focus on the events leading up to the crucifixion, but really nothing directly pointing to the Resurrection.
Gonzalez is joined by several others in the cast with exceptionally strong voices. Natalie Fitzgibbons knocks it out of the theater on the musical’s best-known number, “Day by Day,” and leads beautiful harmonies on “By My Side” with Kendall Eves and Caroline Drayton. Lucia Kaelin, in a funky fur vest over a wildly printed dress, puts a torch singer’s smokey spin on “Turn Back O’ Man.” Sean O’Connor handles the thankless role of Judas well, singing “We Beseech Thee.” Charlie Grimm, playing John the Baptist, gives a heartfelt rendering to “On the Willows.”
Directed by Megan Griffin with vocal direction by Lynette Oliphant, the cast ably handles the tricky Schwartz harmonies, which go far beyond four-part into practically another dimension. Music director Mike Rubino leads a snappy live band of Kirk Berkland, Tony Burmudez, Tom Dossa, Chris Eves, Greg Goebel, Jonathan Heinz and Holly Lasky, and believe me, live music goes a long way in brightening up any stage production.
Alicia Corso’s costume designs are both age- and era-appropriate, with bright florals and paisleys, fringed vests and daisy crowns nearly outshining the cast’s beaming smiles.
The show was last presented by SVCT in 1998. The current production is part of SVCT’s 50th anniversary season.
South Valley Civic Theatre presents “Godspell.” Music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz Performances through Mar. 2 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey St., Morgan Hill. Tickets $16-$25. For tickets and information, visit svct.org.