Review: Godspell - Berkshire Theatre Group
By Kobi Kassal
Oh bless the Lord, live theatre is certainly back. Sitting through quarantine over the past few months and often dreaming of what my first show back would be, I did not think Godspell in an open-air tent ever crossed my mind. Berkshire Theatre Group’s production, which opened last Friday evening, turns out to be just what I needed after all.
This performance marks the first of any in the nation to be approved by Actors Equity since the industry shuttered in early March due to the ongoing health crisis. After arriving and having our temperatures taken, we were ushered to the parking lot in the back of the historic Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where we found our seats. The next hour and 45 minutes (plus a 10-minute intermission—remember those?) made me almost forget the state of the world and dive deep into Stephen Schwartz’s delicious gospel-infused folk score, if only temporarily.
Born out of a collaboration with Schwartz, who is also responsible for Pippin and Wicked, and John-Michael Tebelak, Godspell opened off-Broadway in 1971 and had an incredibly prosperous run for over 2,000 performances. The show has gone on to numerous productions around the globe including a 2011 Broadway revival at Circle in the Square; it is certainly a favorite amongst school groups and churches across the country. The musical recounts the tale of loyalty, friendship, and community drawing off the Gospel According to St. Matthew. An energetic ensemble helps Jesus (Nicholas Edwards) recount the parables all while regaling in song.
As the company made their way onto the stage, their face coverings still on, you could feel the excitement within the tent growing. During the prologue, each cast member introduced themselves and spoke to how the coronavirus pandemic has personally affected their lives and careers, a touching moment that grounds the performance in reality.
Edwards captivates the audience and ensemble as Jesus, leading us all through vignettes of his stories and teaching. Tim Jones balances Edwards as an emphatic Judas; he returns to the role after discovering theatre with this part at the age of 15. Both produce a delightful rendition of “All For The Best” riddled with almost every corona-themed joke in the book, gloves and Clorox wipes included.
Each member of the wildly talented and exceptional cast portrays different characters during the evening, but each gets a moment to shine with their individual musical numbers. Alex Getlin delivers a tearfully beautiful “By My Side” and Dan Rosales’ energetic “We Beseech Thee” was grand. Switching effortlessly between English and Spanish, Isabel Jordan, filled with raw power and emotion made “Day by Day” a memorable and heartfelt moment. The magnificent Kimberly Immanuel’s tap-dancing inspired “Learn Your Lesson Well” provided me enough joy to last until we beat this virus and is worth the price of admission alone.
Many productions are known to update the book to mirror the current state of the world and this production is no exception. From mentions of Zoom meetings, to baking Sourdough while sheltering in place, to Karens at Walmart, and literal yardsticks to measure keeping the appropriate distance, this is certainly a Godspell for our times. Director Alan Filderman and choreographer Gerry McIntyre tackled the monumental task of producing a musical with strict state and Actors Equity guidelines. Mobile plexiglass walls shift throughout the performance to protect actors while masks are always worn when anyone is closer than 6ft from another cast member. It is clear that safety and storytelling go hand in hand.
A breezy, summer night provided the backdrop for Godspell’s triumphant return to the stage. Mask up and curtain up, until we see you at the theatre next time.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars
'Godspell' is playing outside the Colonial Theatre through September 4, 2020. For tickets and more information, visit: berkshiretheatregroup.org
Kobi can be reached on Twitter at @kkassal