Sunday, October 21, 2012

Actors' Playhouse: Godspell (5 reviews)

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theater opened its revival of Godspell on October 10, 2012.
This timeless story of friendship, loyalty, and love with musical parables based on The Gospel According to St. Matthew, features a sparkling score by Stephen Schwartz, the Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer of Wicked and Pippin. One of the most enduring shows of all time, Godspell has touched the hearts of countless theatergoers all over the world. Full of energy and excitement and filled with popular hits such as Day by Day, Learn Your Lessons Well and Turn Back, O Man, Godspell will be a musical experience for the entire family.
David Arisco directed a cast that included Josh Canfield, Clay Cartland, Henry Gainza, Jeni Hacker, Shea Hess, Nick Duckart, Heather Kopp, Kareema Khouri, Cindy Pearce and Don Seward.  Choreography by Barbara Flaten and musical direction by Dave Nagy.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Arisco’s smartest move in the new Godspell lies in his casting. His 10 singer-actors have terrific voices. Each gets some solo time, and the voices (backed by hidden but fine five-piece band) blend with beauty and power. The joy in this Godspell comes from its musical numbers.
The acting out of Jesus’ parables, however, is another story... Arisco’s actors are a mix of young and seasoned performers, but the director doesn’t let them linger at that border. He frequently pushes them into full-on cheesy goofiness... More than once, Arisco takes playful or cute moments and pushes them in goofy, corny or ridiculous directions.

But the cast members, bless ‘em, commit 100 percent to the tone and style of the show, here set in a post-apocalyptic American city. Designer Gene Seyffer supplies boarded-up buildings, a mini-water tower... and a pair of runways so that the cast can get up close and personal with the folks in the front of the orchestra section.
The treasures of this Godspell, the moments that will stick with you as you leave the theater, are its vocal performances. Canfield delivers a glorious Beautiful City, Duckart a rousing Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord), and the two join for a light-hearted song-and-dance version of All for the Best. Henry Gainza delivers an exquisite All Good Gifts, and he brings a comic sabor cubano to his scenes. Heather Kopp sings a sweet, yearning version of the show’s hit song, Day by Day, and blends beautifully with Jeni Hacker on the By My Side duet. The equally powerful Kareema Khouri, Cindy Pearce and Don Seward, along with an alluring Shea Hess and a funny Clay Cartland, round out the cast.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
This earnest troupe led by director David Arisco has reinterpreted and re-imagined for the umpteenth time the venerable warhorse so that it seems fresh and familiar at the same time.
Few shows fall so completely in Arisco’s wheelhouse. Although he is perfectly able to direct a straight play like August: Osage County, his undisputed strength is musical comedy staging. Arisco has a limitless imagination for adorning a script with scores upon scores of grace notes and bits of comic business... But he also knows how to excavate a dramatic moment such as Jesus nearly whispering the prayers at the Seder and having Jesus kiss a reluctant Judas at the moment of betrayal. The apostles’ individual farewells at the Last Supper are especially moving.
The ten-member ensemble across the board is one of the strongest acting/singing casts that Actors Playhouse has ever pieced together. It isn’t that there isn’t a weak link; there isn’t even a mediocre one.
Unavoidably first among equals is Josh Canfield... Canfield’s Jesus is a gentle, playful teacher anxious to spread the gift of his knowledge. There’s no sense of divinity about his performance; instead Canfield radiates peace like a balm to a wounded flock. The persona is beatific, but as accessible and humble as a fresh graduate from the seminary who has chosen to work in the inner city...
Duckart, who played Pharaoh in Joseph and the doctor in Next to Normal, reaffirms his skills combining dramatic intensity and goofball comic chops as both John the Baptist and Judas.
Doing justice to the rest of the cast, each with a clean clarion voice and a personal vitality, would take a paragraph each. But we have to mention in alphabetical order Henry Gainza, dance captain Jeni Hacker, Shea Hess, the full-throated Kareema Khouri (Caldwell’s Working and G4’s Motherhood the Musical); the lovely Heather Kopp who leads a fresh take on the over-exposed standard “Day By Day,” the utility comedian Clay Cartland, Cindy Pearce who was the standout in Slow Burn Theatre’s Urinetown, and Don Seward. And a special nod to Christopher Kent who played in the pit, was assistant stage manager and gave an uncredited but heart-breaking rendition of “On The Willows” from offstage.
...set designer Gene Seyffer expertly fills the stage with a blighted cityscape... Arisco uses every inch of the multi-tiered playing space including two runways jutting into the aisles.
J.W. Arnold reviewed for South Florida Gay News:
In this incarnation, Director David Arisco takes the liberty of updating the show, adding references to Lindsay Lohan, Donald Trump, the Kardashians and even Facebook to the parable skits, as well as rap and hip-hop rhythms. But, like so many period shows that seem quaint today—Hair comes to mind—the updates confuse the context of the original work.
Costume designer Ellis Tillman keeps to the hippie theme with colorful outfits that undoubtedly were sourced at the local Goodwill store, but Gene Seyfer’s multi-tiered, post-apocalyptic cityscape — or is it present day Detroit? — seems a bit too stark, even though Arisco manages to utilize every inch throughout the show.
Henry Gainza offered one of the most poignant moments of the show with a heartfelt “All Good Things,” while Heather Kopp gave a fresh interpretation of the familiar “Day by Day.” Kareema Khouri and Cindy Pearce alternately belted out gospel licks and Clay Cartland excelled at the slapstick humor that has made him a favorite in South Florida theater circles.

Nick Duckart is one of the most talented young actors in the region and he again offers a memorable performance in the dual roles of John the Baptist and later, Judas.  ...Canfield has a crystal clear tenor voice and portrays Jesus in an unassuming way. He can carry the show—he must—but I found myself wondering throughout how Duckart might have portrayed Jesus, perhaps with a little more conviction, even gravitas.
Michelle Petrucci reviewed for Broadway World:
As a blanket statement with definite exceptions, the strengths of both actor and director are seen more keenly in many of the representations of the parables rather than the music numbers. Director David Arisco has found several innovative and fun ways to utilize sweet-faced Henry Gainza, creative comedian Clay Cartland and boisterous funny gal Cindy Pearce who hop in and out of over-the-top yet believable characters almost on a dime.
Kareema Khouri’s powerful “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul” and Jeni Hacker and Heather Kopp’s beautiful blend on “By My Side” stand out among Stephen Schwartz’s light-rock hits. The tongue-in-cheek duet “All For the Best” sung and danced by Jesus, masterfully tackled by Josh Canfield, and Judas, a sometimes dark and brooding Nick Duckart, was the highlight of the evening, featuring Barbara Flaten’s always entertaining choreography.
Ron Levitt gushed on ENV Magazine:
The latest version —  directed with stunning results and quick, sharp pacing  by David Arisco — debuted at the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre...
...this adaptation of Godspell is one thing certain – a chance to display and for the audience to see some of the best young talent  of today.  As a showcase for musical comedy ability, one does not have to go any further than this theatre...
He then says something positive about every person involved with the production.  We couldn't figure out a fair way to select only a few, so just go read it.

Actors' Playhouse presents Godspell at The Miracle Theater through November 4, 2012.

No comments:

Post a Comment