Chicago Theatre Review
Wholesome Family Fun at Godspell
Theatre At The Center’s Godspell
Playing at Theatre At The Center is an energetic, colorful, bubble filled version of Godspell. The young cast of 20-something performers collectively delivers a fine performance and really seem like they’re having a fun time with the show. So the real question to ask yourself before visiting this show is, ‘Do I like Godspell?’. I had never seen Godspell prior to this performance and all I knew about it was that it follows the story of Jesus. If you’re either a fan of Godspell or peppy musical theatre, Theatre At The Center presents a fun night of entertainment. If you’re more of a Stephen Sondheim type musical fan, you may want to give this show a pass.
Godspell is a musical adaptation of the Gospel of Matthew and highlights the parables of Jesus. The music of Steven Schwartz is beautiful, but doesn’t quite hit the poignancy or musicality of some of his other popular works like Wicked or Pippin. Theatre At The Center takes this story and places it in what appears to be Venice Beach. Each character is a representation of free spirited beach goers from a woman doing yoga, a hoodie-wearing man preaching politics, or just a couple with a frisbee. Jesus himself, played by Liam Quealy, looks like he would be pumping iron along the boardwalk. Through the story, Jesus tries to teach his parables to the beach goers, and they happily form a community of love and friendship.
Liam Quealy feels like a natural fit for Jesus. He has a friendly and welcoming demeanor in the role, and Donny-Osmold-esque vocals. When it comes to straight acting, he probably needs to gain a few years and experiences, but he has a genuine quality to his performance that works well for this part. He simply seems like the type of guy who attracts others with his sense of compassion. Jim DeSelm as Judas probably gives the best acting performance. He presents an interestingly conflicted character that is certainly not the villain of the story, but also doesn’t always fit in with the crowd. What is nice about this musical is that every performer gets a chance to shine. Merrick Robinson’s light sense of humor made him stand out and Hillary Marren showcased her beautiful voice in the number “Day by Day”.
Being set in Venice Beach (presumably), the walls for the stage were skillfully painted in Christian themed graffiti designed by Angie Weber Miller. The lighting, designed by Shelley Strasser-Holland, had some interesting moments including the use of flashlights by the actors and a very striking tableau at the climax of the show. However aside from those moments, this production seemed rather superficial. There weren’t that many elements that came across as particularly thought provoking or innovative. Even the choice of staging the play at Venice Beach seemed like an odd choice. It was clear the director, John-Michael Tebelak, was going for the kumbaya collective stereotype of free spirited beach goers, but that is an image that stands in stark contract to the reality of Venice Beach. If you have ever been to Venice Beach, it is full of a huge variety of people, most of which you would not think about getting a loving embrace from. The last time I visited Venice beach, I was offered a medical marijuana card every twenty feet. So there may be a section of the beach going population there that are elated for reasons other than the blessing of the Holy Spirit, but this production doesn’t seem to have set the play in Venice Beach ironically so I don’t think those are the types of hippies we’re seeing here.
Overall, this was a pleasant night of theatre to take your wholesome family to. It will be interesting to see what some of these young performers do in their futures, but for the time being, they seem to be having fun performing at Theatre At The Center. And when it comes to considering Godspell, just know what you’re getting into. I don’t think most of the audience during the performance I saw was as cynical as I am, and it seemed very well received when the curtain call came. So make the trip to Munster, Indian if you’re looking for a night of uplifting musical theatre.
Reviewed by Clare Kosinski
Godspell presented by Theatre At The Center
Playing September 12 – Octorber 20 at Theatre At The Center, 1040 Ridge Rd, Munster, IN.
Tickets are available by calling 219.836.3255 or by visiting theatreatthecenter.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.