Berkshire Theatre Group
Godspell, by John-Michael Tebelak; music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Choreographed by Gerry McIntyre. Directed by Alan Filderman.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"All your wrongs will be addressed."
Inside the tent during a musical number; photo: Emma K. Rothenburg-Ware
Talent to Spare:
What is undeniable is the work done by every one of the ten actors on the wide, compartmentalized stage (wonderfully designed by Randall Parsons) and the creative talent that gives them their focal identities. Each space matches its occupant right down to the sexy beanbag chair occupied by Michael Wartella. The angtled plexi-glass walls on the moveable units help to confine each player in their socially distanced spots and the show opens with each player confessing his or her history within and without the Covid era. Why they are here is their topic and why they are here this August is the subject of the show. Each one, within their roles, plays out their history and attitude to perfection. That takes talent. Wartella, a Pittsfied native, unable to continue his growing Broadway career, is appreciating all good gifts in this Berkshire world and setting himself on the road to seeing the light of the world on a rural tented stage in a parking lot. It is not what he deserves at this point but unlike a mere 30,000 out-of-work professional actors he has a job. He shows us the complexity of knowledge and achievement with his performance.
Brandon Lee, a general understudy in this show, played the part usually played by Zach Williams and he was a standout in this excellent company. His musical numbers were strong, and his comments on the action had clarity and humor. He has the most expressive hands in this group of talents and it was, frankly, a joy and a thrill to watch him present his honest emotional side through his use of them. I hope he gets to play this role again and again. Audiences deserve to see him.
photo: Emma K. Rothenburg-Ware
The women in the show:
The show has been cast without regard to gender which is great. All five of them are just wonderful. We all know the story - the last year in the life of Jesus; enough said. It is how these actresses deal with him and the story that scores.
Isabel Jordan drives her way through "Day by Day" and leaves a permanent mark on our hearts. Emily Koch does an improved sense of justice on "Bless the Lord." Najah Hetzberger's mother earth figure is sheer joy celebrating "All good gifts" from God the father. Talent simply jumps out of her expressive body through her jubilant voice. Alex Getlin just opens her heart with "By Your Side" when Jesus saves her from a stoning. Mary Magdeline could not have faced her redemption better than Getlin does it.
The extraordinary Kimberley Immanuel tops the group with every gesture, every word she speaks, every musical number she performs including a tap-danced "Learn Your Lessons Well." She even manages a short passage of the almost-lost art of toe-tapping. She brought down the house which was, honestly, not unanticipated. What a company of players!
Kimberley Immanuel; photo: Emma K. Rothenburg-Ware
Nicholas Edwards; photo: Emma K. Rothenburg-Ware
Two named characters + one:
In the program two performers bear character names: Judas and Jesus. Judas is played by Tim Jones and Jesus by Nicholas Edwards. Jones is very good, often lurking in his upstage left box, a sneer on his lips that emerges occasionally but is never intrusive. The two men do an old-fashioned straw hat and cane duet in act one that is a delight (choreographed to historic perfection by Gerry McIntyre). In the box next to Jones sits Dan Rosales who could be the least intrusive player I've ever seen until he has his biggest moment in the song "We Beseech Thee" which simply blew me away. Talk about talent under a rock, Rosales shows us what that actually means.
As Jesus, Nicholas Edwards shines making every famous biblical quote he spouts into something very, very new. He sings, he dances, he has a smile that can reach out and hold you. Most often dominating center stage, he is an actor who deserves that place.
Director Alan Filderman, ably assisted by lighting designer Matthew Adelson, has created an entirely new experience called "Godspell." It is not the show I remembered. It is a living entity that crawls into your brain and your soul. The way this show works is nothing short of genius: talent and genius. Talent brightens a Covid world and turns it into a hopeful place.
Live theater is back, folks, and it feels so good. "All good gifts" indeed. Godspell 2020. It's here and its ours.
### 08/11/2020 ###
Godspell plays at Berkshire Theatre Group's Colonial Theatre, 111 South Street, Pittsfield, MA through September 4. For information and tickets go to www.berkshiretheatregroup.org or call the box office at 413-997-4444.