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Godspell | The Muny

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theat_godspell.jpgThe magic of Godspell is in the terrific musical numbers.

 

Godspell tells the story of the New Testament Book of Matthew through music, dance and drama. Most of the music and much of the lyrics were written by Stephen Schwartz, the man who later brought us Wicked. (Some lyrics are taken straight from Christian liturgy.)

Between highly entertaining song-and-dance bits, the cast of Jesus (Eric Kunze) and his nine apostles act out the parables and other lessons of the gospels ("godspell" is an archaic way to spell gospel). Their performances include charades, parodies and even sports.

The show is filled with contemporary cultural nods, and they go by so fast it's doubtful everyone will catch every reference. But still, it's fun to watch the characters put on a fake telecast of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, among other targets of parody. A smart musical, the show is eclectic in its sources for humor; there's even a little Yiddish.

But the magic of Godspell is in the terrific musical numbers, particularly "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" (joined by the vivacious Muny youth ensemble), "All for the Best" and the famous "Day by Day." The songs evoke a variety of musical styles. Not surprisingly, the least musically interesting number is "By My Side," the only song not written by Schwartz.

Kunze has virtually made a career out of playing Jesus in this show and a few others (Whistle Down the Wind, Jesus Christ Superstar). He has also become something of the Muny's favorite heartthrob, cast in a variety of shows that call for a hunk. In the number "Alas for You," he perfectly displays Jesus's anger at the Pharisees.

While the entire cast is strong, Uzo Aduba, Demond Green and Rashidra Scott, three African-American actors, have outstanding voices that make the show all the better.

Non-believers worried about being subjected to someone else's religion in the guise of a musical should relax; the theology is sugar-coated and Godspell can be perfectly entertaining to an atheist or a Jew like me.

Godspell is relatively short, with a curtain call at 10 p.m. on the dot. But there's enough fun packed into the hour-and-a-half of performance that theatergoers won't be disappointed. | David Benkof

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