OK, maybe it’s just me, but aren’t “Godspell,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Hair” really just one big show? I mean, aren’t they?
If you put them in a blender and press the “mashup” button, you’re likely to get the same basic viewing experience that any of them might offer individually. Collectively, they gave rise to the rock musical and each show more-or-less celebrated the same values: Youthful tribalism, a childish insistence on remaining apart from the corrupt establishment and a gleeful “let’s put on a show” aesthetic.
Nobody so far has taken the bold step of actually merging them as a kalidescopic reminder of a style of theater that seemed new and refreshing in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Why not? I’ll be waiting. Egads Theatre has mounted a crisply performed production of “Godspell” with a young, vibrant cast that takes its cue from the 2011 New York revival, in which the authors updated the show to include references to social media and the Occupy Wall Street movement and for good measure threw in a rap tune. “Godspell,” written by John Michael Tebelak with songs by Stephen Schwartz, is a retelling of the story of Jesus, his followers, his betrayal and ultimate crucifixion. Much of the script is taken from the Gospel of Matthew, but Schwartz’s songs cover a lot of stylistic ground. Anthems, rock ballads and vaudevillian-flavored tunes all find a home here. Director Steven Eubank and choreographer Tiffany Powell, one of the most effective teams in Kansas City theater, produce a succession of vivid images that rarely fail to impress. One of Eubank’s chief talents is his ability to compose precise, balanced stage pictures. Here he uses the relatively small playing area of the Off Center Theatre skillfully. Eubank also showcases a cast of young actor/singers, some of whom I’d not seen before, who give this show all they’ve got. On a performance level, there’s little to criticize. Matthew A. King, who posseses a compelling liquid voice, makes a memorable Jesus. King plays him as a kid wise beyond his years. Samn Wright appears first as John the Baptist and later as Judas, bringing a certain charismatic inscrutability to each role. The ensemble offers no weak links. Certain performers — Josh Atkins, Kenna Marie Hall, Ryan Hruza and Kelsea Victoria McLean — draw our attention repeatedly. But each actor is given a moment to shine. Chelsea Anglemyer, Christopher Carlson, Sarah Morrissey and Stefanie Stevens demonstrate formidable musical-theater abilities. Strong voices abound. And each actor shows us comedic gifts, sometimes in the form of amusing ad libs. Set designers Alex Perry and Anderson Willms, as well as prop designer Jon Cupit, take some of their cues from the 1973 movie version, incorporating wooden cable spools that have been splashed with psychedelic color combinations. Simple wooden scaffolding upstage serves different purposes various purposes. Aaron Chvatal’s costumes are an interesting mixed bag of simplicity and elaborately assembled outfits that suggest he may have raided a few thrift stores. The band performs flawlessly. Pianist Lyndell Leatherman conducts a crack ensemble, including guitarists Sean Hogge and Tony Kirkland, bassist Kevin Payton and drummer Ron Ernst. Bottom line: I’m not a fan of the show. But it’s hard to imagine a more committed cast.
“Godspell” runs through March 23 at the Off Center Theatre at Crown Center. For more information, call 816-545-6000 or go to EgadsTheatre.com.