Arts & Entertainment

Theater Review: Rutgers Theater Group Tries its Best with “Godspell”

The Livingston Theater Company was strong in some areas of "Godspell." Other areas? Not so much. Credits: Livingston Theater Company

NEW BRUNSWICK - In a battle of musicals which star Jesus, “Jesus Christ Superstar” is definitely the winner. While “Godspell” does feature good songs, the scenes between the music vary from simply passable to so annoying they can cause a headache.

Of all of the past musicals to feature for their 20th anniversary, why did the student-run Livingston Theatre Company (LTC) have to do this one again?

The LTC first performed “Godspell” in their 1999-2000 season. It was the second show they ever performed, and it does have a long history as it was first performed off-Broadway in 1971.

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It has music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, who went on to write the songs for “Pippin” and “Wicked,” and a script by John-Michael Tebelak. Its premise is Jesus telling stories from the New Testament to his disciples, but in an updated way that’s supposed to be “cool.”

Jesus and the disciples were hippies in past productions but it was hard to tell what they were in this one as the costumes just looked like whatever colorful clothing the cast had sitting in their closets.

The script for “Godspell,” despite its complex subject matter, is immature because it features characters whose journey consists of learning about how “cool” and relevant to the times Jesus and his teachings are.

This show is supposed to be a high-energy comedy, with some dramatic parts (mostly towards the end of Act 2). The cast certainly brought the energy as they were giving each line and song their all in addition to running up and down the aisles.

Sadly, the comedy just wasn’t there. The humor was childish and irritating as the jokes consisted of cheap pop-culture references, over the top reactions, pratfalls, and bringing unwitting audience members on-stage.

There were also a few inside jokes as much of the audience consisted of friends and family members of the cast. Each scene that didn’t involve a song was reminiscent of both a cheesy youth group performance at a church about how Jesus is “hip with the kids” and a sketch comedy show on Nickelodeon (it didn’t help that there was a reference to the “Judge Trudy” skit from “The Amanda Show”).

The musical parts, however, were enjoyable. “Godspell” has a great soundtrack and everyone in the cast had a fantastic voice. That is, when you could hear their voices as there were some sound mixing issues where the band drowned out the singers in certain points of the more upbeat songs.

The stand-out numbers were “Learn Your Lessons Well” with a solo from Maya Mitterhoff, “Bless the Lord” with a solo from Jordan Vinson,” “Light of the World” with a solo from Dylan Weidenfeld, and “Beautiful City” sung by Tyler Conroy as Jesus.

Overall, unless you’re a friend or family member of someone in the cast or crew, save your money for LTC’s spring production of “Legally Blonde.”

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