If you like trampolines, social commentary and beach balls, Baylor Theatre’s “Godspell” deserves a spot at the top of your agenda. The show, directed by Stan Denman, professor of directing and playwriting, opened Thursday evening in the Mabee Theater, and, in short, the show is an absolute triumph.
“Godspell” is a two-act musical that retells several of the parables of Jesus Christ, primarily those from the Gospel of Matthew. The original 1971 off-Broadway production featured eight characters who engage with Jesus in a conversational way to relearn the stories of the gospels and to derive new meaning from each. The show has had a long history of touring companies and revivals.
Upon entering the theater, attendees are greeted by thousands of sticky notes and index cards on nearly every surface of the theater, each with a note of gratitude scribbled across it. The musical’s set consists of a colossal cylindrical structure situated upstage, covered in more thank you notes. The whole theater is filled with fog, which adds invaluable dimension to the unique lighting in the space.
Designed by JoJo Percy, the lighting complements the set and allows the audience to engage more thoroughly with each parable. Vibrant colors spring around the stage during upbeat numbers and singular spotlights highlight key actors and actresses for the more intimate moments.
At first glance, the costume design feels quite motley; however, some of the cast members shared the reasoning behind this decision, which provides profound context to each and every outfit. Before the show began rehearsal, each cast member was asked to fill out a form explaining their personality and style. Costume Designer Becca Janney collected these forms and created each costume based off their responses — an innovative and inspired method of costume design, showcasing the individuality of each cast member.
The show is highly interactive and calls for the participation of several audience members throughout the performance. At one occasion, two audience members were pulled from their seats, thrown into costumes and required to perform a skit about one of the parables. Another woman was later called to the stage to play charades with the cast.
Without an orchestra pit in the thrust theater, characterized by elevated seating in a half circle around a floor-level stage, the musical accompaniment is situated out of sight backstage, but that doesn’t prevent the music from filling the space. The music from the show covers countless genres from soul to rock ‘n’ roll, each song beautifully combined with voices of every tonal quality and range.
If the engaging environment isn’t enough reason to purchase a ticket, the 16 performers offer 16 compelling reasons to see the show. Austin senior Brody Volpe gave an inspiring performance as Jesus. Murphy senior Kelsey Jordan Ward and Tucson, Ariz., junior Kat Phillips blew the audience away with their massive vocals. On countless occasions, Waco sophomore Meredith Marcum stunned viewers with her refined soprano voice and whistle register. Beyond her impressive vocal talent, San Antonio senior Juliana Rose Zepeda had the audience in stitches with her nuanced character and hilarious one-liners. Austin senior Lily O’Neal Howard and Magnolia senior Charity Whitfield left no eye dry in the audience with their rendition of “By My Side.” In all sincerity, each and every performer deserves a paragraph all their own to describe their contributions to the show. The on-stage chemistry between the characters was palpable.
Each scene contributed new dimension to the show, but there were a few that stood out from the rest. The “All Good Gifts” number moved the audience with silks of every color, aerial elements and more. Attendees received a sneak peak into the life of many Baylor students when the parable of the tax collector was reimagined with a Cashier’s Office representative as a main role; however, every comical moment was paired with an equally moving moment. The last supper scene displayed a level of intimacy and closeness between the cast members that couldn’t be feigned.
Every element of the show was refined and nuanced, despite the casualness of “Godspell.” The show will run for three weeks, and anyone interested in seeing the musical should secure a ticket at the soonest opportunity. Baylor Theatre’s “Godspell” has set a new standard for collegiate theater. Congratulations to the cast and crew.