A Monday night without “Godspell”, it seems to me, is still less than a Monday night with “Godspell”. True any day…day to day.
After many, many experiences of watching wide-eyed young people preparing the way for the Lord, I can pretty much tell every line of this classic 1971 hippy-dippy pop musical with Stephen Schwartz’s superglue score (“Wicked”) ) and one of his time by John-Michael Tebelak. In fact, the show brings to mind a traumatic student memory: As a freshman in the 1980s, I was chosen to sing “We Beseech Thee” and had to pull my first a-cappella note from the bray. sheep of the whole. But I digress. “Godspell” is such a joyful, warm and loving show. Over the past 50 or so years, critics have said one version of the cliché, “now more than ever we need ‘Godspell,’ and why change that tradition now?
More than ever, we need “Godspell”. See?
All I ask is that we don’t be at the circus. The clown metaphor with this show emerged in the 1980s and was never completely banished. Another artist in combination with rosy cheeks and I can scream.
Luckily, Christopher Pazdernik’s fresh but not frenetic production at the Theo Ubique Theater isn’t so left. It keeps it simple, truthful and does what “Godspell” always does best – showcasing talented young performers. Sitting there on Howard Street on Monday, for example, it was a real pleasure to hear the rich voice of Izzie Jones sing “Day By Day.” And the excellent Laz Estrada plowed the fields and broadcast “All Good Gifts”, one of Schwartz’s most beautiful melodies, with all the emotional intensity required. Quite charming, as was this whole cast, with Anna Marie Abbate providing just enough edge to cut the treacle. I tend to look back on my life when watching a decent “Godspell” and this was no exception; the production, choreographed by Jenna Schoppe, had a more emotional resonance than the recent Broadway revival.
Pazdernik had a good idea with the ever-crucial understudy. Instead of cooling their heels backstage, they’re on the mic as part of the band, enriching the sound. That’s why we’re all here.
One last remark. I saw the remarkable musical director Jeremy Ramey perform and conduct about forty productions at Theo Ubique, in two places. He says “Godspell” is his last show after 1,400 performances without ever missing a single one. A deserved outing, for sure.
But, hey, you built a nice city in that joint, man. Show after show after show. God speed.
Chris Jones is a reviewer for the Tribune.
Review: “Godspell” (3 stars)
When: Until July 31
Where: Theo Ubique Theatre, 721 Howard St., Evanston
Operating time: 2 hours
Tickets: $42 to $54 at 773-939-4101 or theo-u.com (dinner is available for an additional $29)