First United Methodist spreads the Gospel with rousing “Godspell”

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

“Godspell” turns the good news into happy talk. The musical, directed by Janine Baughman, is on stage at the First United Methodist Church Thursday through Saturday. The 34th annual dinner theater is sold out, but there will be about 20 tickets for show and dessert only available each night. Tickets will be $15 at the door. This after dinner seating will be at 6:45 p.m.

Mara Connor sings "Day by Day" to Michael Barlos as Jesus.

Mara Connor sings “Day by Day” to Michael Barlos as Jesus.

With a book by John-Michael Tebelak and most of the music by Stephen Schwartz, the musical’s take on the Gospel is very much in the spirit of  1971 when it was created, free-spirited, free-wheeling. The show opens with a gaggle of philosophers, each spouting fragments of their philosophy creating a cacophony of abstraction. As “Tower of Babble” proceeds, they each take turns climbing a tall ladder center stage. Then John the Baptist (Will Baughman) enters, carrying a water gun, skirting the audience as he approaches the stage.

He sets about baptizing the cast who have now shed their personas as philosophers. Now they are just folks, wide-eyed and happy.

Baughman brings a big goofy charm to John, and then to Judas.

John the Baptist (Will Baughman) baptizes Courtney Gilliland.

John the Baptist (Will Baughman) baptizes Courtney Gilliland.

The last to arrive is Jesus (Michael Barlos). Barlos conveys a charisma that instantly captivates the crowd and the audience. He exudes a warmth and tolerance, like a favorite teacher. He loves the rambunctiousness of his disciples, but knows when to firmly but lovingly draw the line.

The cast is a team of individuals. They all have their own way of smiling, and each gets a chance to shine in a song that reveals more personality. We feel we’re getting to know them. But it really is how they work together as a group that gives the production its lift.

Other cast members are: Andrew Austin, Daniel Carder, Mara Connor, D. Ward Ensign, Courtney Gilliland, Cassie Greenlee, Garrett Leininger, Emily Popp, Tyler Strayer and Sherel White.

Daniel Carder, front, sings lead on "Bless the Lord."

Daniel Carder, front, sings lead on “Bless the Lord.”

There’s a palpable joy in their interplay as they act out parables. They even pull in audience members to help them. Throughout they inject contemporary references including a few jabs at the president-elect.  As cast members step into the spotlight for features, their fellow actors seem to enjoy them as much as the audience will. There’s much to enjoy.

The music moves from the heartfelt ballad “Day by Day” sung by Connor to the gospel fervor of “Bless the Lord” performed by Carder.

Barlos and Baughman have a great time in the vaudeville number “All for the Best.” Not often you get to see a tap dancing Messiah.

During intermission the cast spills into the audience to help serve dessert. Their enthusiasm cannot be contained on stage.

Andrew Austin opens the second act with a low-key reprise of “Learn Your Lessons Well,” accompanying himself on ukulele.

Sherel White and Cassie Greenlee sing "Light of the World."

Sherel White and Cassie Greenlee sing “Light of the World.”

While the disciples seem as high spirited as usual at the beginning, Barlos is clearly troubled. A shade seems to fall over his demeanor, even as he tries not to worry the others. The act pivots with the women, led by Popp, performing “By My Side.” The musical puts the women front and center in Jesus’ ministry.

Though the script provides no motivation for his actions, Baughman shifts to the betrayer without betraying the easy-going character he was in the first act.

The point is we are all these characters, all faithful disciples, all wayward, all betrayers, all believers. Following the trauma of the crucifixion, dramatically rendered on a chain link fence, the downcast disciples must make a choice, and they choose belief.

Michael Barlos, left, as Jesus does a softshoe with Will Baughman as Judas.

Michael Barlos, left, as Jesus does a softshoe with Will Baughman as Judas.

 

Andrew Austin opensthe second act with a solo.

Andrew Austin opens the second act with a solo.

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