Review: Godspell – Sarah Rodgers socks it to us

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Blessed is the inventive Sarah Rodgers for she has taken Godspell, an already irreverent musical based on the gospel according to Saint Matthew, and really socks it to us by placing it within an episode of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in.

GodspellDirector Rodgers leaves few Laugh-in skits or characters at the door.  We get it all: the cocktail party with its inane one-liners, the Farkel Family, the go-go dancers, Wolfgang, Tyrone and Gladys, and even the act one ending of the man in a yellow raincoat riding a tricycle.  The only things seemingly missing are appearances from Geraldine and the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate.

The set-up for this particular Laugh-in “episode” sees John the Baptist and Jesus joining the regular cast. But herein lies the tiniest of problems with the show – in her attempt to place Godspell within the Laugh-in world, Director Rodgers relegates the parables of Jesus in act one to second tier status and they sometimes become lost amongst the body paint, martinis and lecherous old men on park benches.  Act two, which primarily deals with the crucifixion, is more successful but only because Laugh-in takes a back seat.  And while wholly entertaining, I did long for the parables to come through just a bit more.

The cast, who for the most part are not old enough to have seen the original Laugh-in on television, still manage to embody their Laugh-in characters without, wisely, attempting any real impersonation.  Stand outs include Katherine Gauthier’s Goldie Hawn with her near perfect dumb and giggle, Erin Germaine Mahoney’s bigger than life Jo Anne Worley and Julia Church’s Lily Tomlin snorting her way through Ernestine and contorting her way through Edith Ann.   As hosts Rowan and Martin, Joel Stephanson and John Voth are also spot-on with an obvious chemistry and near perfect comedic timing.

I had hoped for a more commanding performance from Tim Bratton as Jesus but he is hampered somewhat from his Laugh-in guest star status during act one but does manage to break through during the more serious (and much shorter) act two.

The small three piece band does a great job within the confines of the Pacific Theatre (just wait until you see how they have to access their performance space).  At times the cast seemed a little tentative in their singing and I was somewhat surprised and disappointed they were not always able to fill the tiny space with their voices.

Set designer Bryan Pollock captures the groovy feel of Laugh-in complete with the multi-level windows used to great effect along the one wall and costume designer Carmen Alatorre has great fun with the various Laugh-in fashions.  Lighting designer Itai Erdal brings a lightness to act one that fits nicely with the television vibe and ends with a wonderfully powerful design to the crucifixion scene.

An amazingly inventive version from the mind of Sarah Rodgers, this Godspell is ultimately entertaining and a great end to the Pacific Theatre season.

And that’s the truth.

3 1/2 of 5 StarsGodspell
Pacific Theatre
28 May – 3 July 2010

Singing! Dancing! Sheep! Goats! Thou shalt be thrilled! Pacific Theatre and Theatre at TWU are delighted to celebrate the greatest story ever told with one of the most popular musicals ever staged. Godspell, born out of a master’s thesis project, became the longest running off-Broadway musical of all time in a turn of Hollywood-style fortune when it caught the eye of New York producers at its college premiere. Tickets are $17 – $34 available online or by calling 604.731.5518.

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