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Superb cast in Encore’s GODSPELL (review) March 31, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Ann Arbor, Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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GODSPELL arrived at the Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter last night, and it is a tribute to director Dan Cooney and his superb cast and musicians that this production ranks right up there among the best, and in some ways superior to the current Broadway production.

This is an earthy revival of the show — and its 70’s roots shine through only momentarily as it runs its fleet two-hour course through many of the parables found in the book of Matthew. Trimming some of the fat; re-ephasizing portions of the show often left to be the dreck that they are; and finding some truly brilliant moments in it all (take the vaudeville quarter-size dancing body puppets as one of those examples), Cooney has brought his own spin to the material, and it all works very well on Encore’s stage (here transformed into a dilapidating old theater by stage designer Leo Babcock).

Let me be the first to say that if you asked my opinion on the ten musicals that rank among the worst ever written that have somehow managed to make it into the popular repertoire, Godspell is one of them. That being said, this production manages to avoid most of the pitfalls usually associated with the show: gone is the opening mumbo-jumbo philosophy section; gone are the ridiculous hand puppets; gone is the glitter and confetti and (thank God) the clown outfits.

Rusty Mewha both acts and sings with brio here as Jesus — in fact, his range just continues to grow and grow in the many shows I have now seen him perform in. Brian Thibault performs a solid Judas. The remainder of the cast is sublime — Brian E. Buckner not only performs but also plays piano in the ensemble; Keith Kalinowski shines in each of his numbers; Sonja Marquis and Amy Smidebush sing to the rafters; Angela Kay Miller and Fatima Poggi hit all the right notes in their various ensemble duties; Charles Lindsay is an angelic-voiced Lamar; and Tara Tomcsik delivers the evenings funniest lines and routines (her tap-dancing opening to Act II is both hilarious and demonstrates masterful control of overblown and very funny tap steps).

As the show works its way through Vaudeville; Grand Opera; Westerns: Gangster Flicks; and even a bit of A Chorus Line, the parables are clearly delineated  stories, and I must say, Cooney has done a fine job of making sure that they are understandable and defined (something that can not be said of the energetic but bombastic current Broadway revival). Barb Cullen’s choreography matches the styles perfectly and blends nicely between movement and stage action. It bears repeating how glad I was that the hand-puppets are nowhere to be seen.

There was an opening night glitch when the voluminous stage smoke effect in Act II set off the building’s fire alarm. The cast didn’t miss a beat and worked their way through a portion of the show with the whining alarm in the background — and it says something that the audience sat raptly involved in the whole thing to the point where the alarm itself was barely discernible.

But this night belonged to Cooney and his cast. They are magnificent.

 

GODSPELL continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through April 22. Tickets are available at http://www.theencoretheatre.org or the box office at 3126 Broad Street, Dexter, MI  734-268-6200

 

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Comments

1. Barb E. - March 31, 2012

Congratulations to cast and crew! Can’t wait to see this one. So glad Dan has graced Dexter with his directing accumen.


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