Updated with review: Fresno Pacific’s joyful ‘Godspell’ continues for a final weekend run
‘Godspell” is a joyful musical, and you can imagine the cast is even happier to perform a musical at Fresno Pacific University in a gorgeous new theater space. That’s the subject of the following video story from the latest episode of “The Munro Review on CMAC.” Producer Kyle Lowe and I visited the space, interviewed cast members and director Brandi Martin, and filed this report:
“Godspell” continues for four performances: 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, through 7 p.m. Saturday, April 22. I got to see it last weekend and particularly liked some of Martin’s inventive staging.
The vibe: There’s a definite whiff of hippie Flower Power, but Martin and costume designer Brooke Aiello find their own distinctive, timeless feel for the production. A pastiche of fabrics, textures and colors are worn by the cast, from pastels to denim, and the funky shoelaces are a nice touch. Martin uses hula hoops, bubbles and some simple yet incredibly effective props — a lighted, snaky rope lamp, for one — to set the ambiance. A stuffed Lamb Chop makes an appearance.
The acting: Jeff Jones, an FPU alum, makes a strong and charismatic Jesus (delivering some moving vocals, particularly in “Beautiful City.”) He’s a bit older than the cast, and the age difference helps give the character some gravitas. Alexander Lujan is vibrant presence on stage as John the Baptist/Judas. Other student standouts include ensemble members Alex Hodson and Izaiah Ruiz, who formed vivid characterizations.
The sound: The balance between the live vocals and the prerecorded music was good; I never felt the voices were overpowered. Some of the entrances on solo numbers felt tentative.
The direction: I think it’s stellar, especially when it comes to Martin’s inventive in-the-round staging. The Pharisees, clumped together on a scaffolded platform, become a hissing, swaying, masked presence. A kite, “hoisted” in the air, sails skyward. The crucifixion scene is superbly stylized with a surprise visual that suggests circus acrobatics crossed with a thrash-metal concert. More than just clever stagecraft, however, Martin succeeds on an emotional level, wrapping up her dedicated cast (which includes such strategic community theater veterans as Cady Mejias and Jeremy Salas) in a feeling of warmth and joy.
My theological takeaway: The first act of “Godspell” is focused heavily on Jesus’ teachings and philosophies, while the second act relies on the more familiar biographical narrative involving his betrayal, capture and execution. I found myself applying what Jesus had to say not only to the state of organized religion in this country today but also our culture’s celebration of wealth, division and dogmatism. The spirit of Jesus’ words, if taken to heart, should be enough to make everyone with a vested interest in the religion-industrial complex cringe a bit: Every man who exalts himself shall be humbled. Be careful not to make a show of your religion. No man serves God and money. Take the “plank” out of your eye before harping on the speck of sawdust in your neighbor’s.
In the play we hear Jesus relating the famous “cut off your right hand if it offends you” lesson found in the book of Matthew. On one level, it’s a lesson about temptation. To me, it’s also a lesson about literalism. I don’t believe that Jesus literally wanted his followers to cut off their hands — or pluck out their eyes — in order to keep safe from temptation. That is not a way to sell people on a new religion. It’s a metaphor.
“Godspell” is a metaphor as well. Jesus didn’t sing hippie-edged show tunes or dance across the countryside. (Or, if he did, the apostles kept that to themselves.) What he did do was deliver a message of joy. More than 2,000 years later, the best part of this show is the way it reminds people of that, “Day by Day.”