'Godspell': Gospel according to Liberty Showcase Theatre

March 05, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Contributing Writer

The beauty of staging the soft rock show "Godspell" is that almost any concept works. This rousing, rollicking musical based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew is currently being given exuberant treatment by the Liberty Showcase Theatre at the Sudbrook Middle School through Saturday.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, this joyous work has been admirably directed by Ray Thompson and inventively choreographed by Richard Keiser.

The musical is a contemporary retelling of the last seven days of the life of Christ. The book, written by John-Michael Tebelak, incorporates Biblical quotes and modern idioms that fold comically into broad comedy styles.

The six women and six men energetically enact the parables and morality tales contained in the Biblical text. They tell loud corny jokes, some ribald, and engage in exaggerated slapstick antics.

There are 15 memorable songs, particularly "Day By Day," "All For The Best," "Light Of The World." The songs first speak of the glories of God and heaven and, then take a darker tone as the followers become the dissenters of Christ.

Director Thompson is setting his production in a desolate railroad station where an eclectic collection of people and the world's greatest philosophers gather to sing the praises of or cynically dissect the teachings of the Lord.

And Mr. Thompson has the audience sitting on the large stage, which is in three-quarter round fashion, and that gives the musical an extra dimension of intimacy.

This is especially true in the poignant moments before and after the final betrayal.

Still, the Liberty Showcase production is a bouncing, earthy one given excellent support by the live, five-piece band under the direction of Robert W. Cox, although sometimes the music drowns out some of the weaker singers.

The highlight of this version -- and worth the price of admission -- is the outstanding performance of Christopher S. Amato as Jesus. Casually outfitted in jeans and boots, he preaches love and forgiveness in compelling song numbers and spoken words.

Kristoffer Kahn turns in creditable performances as Jean Paul Sartre and Judas.

Individually, the other singers are not as effective in their roles and need much greater vocal projection. But as an ensemble the company pulls it all together nicely.

*

An entertaining production of the 1959 Jerome Robbins classic "Gypsy" (songs by Julie Styne and Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents) is on stage at the White Marsh Dinner Theatre through April 5.

The show is well-staged by John Desmone with lively, high-kicking choreography by Laura Edwards. The play, based on Gypsy Rose Lee's autobiography, reveals the story of her rather horrific stage mother, Mama Rose. Driven by her own obsessive ambition, Rose hauls out all the stops to make her two girls (Louise and June) "stars."

The songs are still wonderful as sung by the talented 23-member cast. Among the numbers are "Let Me Entertain You," "Small World," "Everything's Coming Up Roses."

After June takes off with a hoofer, Rose turns her intense attention to the less-gifted Louise, who eventually becomes the world famous classy stripper.

Nancy Tarr Hart incorporates a lot of humor into the role of the relentless Rose, making this stringent creature almost palatable. Ms. Hart's voice may not have the range of an Ethel Merman, but she puts the right emotions and zest into her musical numbers.

Kim M. Garrison is an attractive Gypsy, but the actress needs to inject more punch and forceful vocal projection into her songs and entire characterization.

Dave Guy is first-rate as Rose's sweet, worshipful Herbie, although the actor could be angrier in his last confrontation with Rose. Singer/dancer Richard W. Lloyd shines in the "All I Need Is the Girl" number.

Gabrielle Dummyer is excellent as the teen-age June and Abby Margulis is a delight as the young Baby June. Pamela Peach, a fine actress and singer, is hilarious as a burlesque stripper and Dori Armor Watson jiggles amusingly as another burlesque queen.

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