September 15, 2005
Ensemble elevates Palace’s Godspell
Spine-tingling harmonies and Judas’ soft shoe impress the Hippo reviewer
I must preface this
review by saying that I’ve seen about a dozen different versions of
Godspell over the years, and performed in two of them. I am an unabashed
fan of this musical. A musical and largely comedic retelling of the
Gospel according to Matthew, it was the very first play I ever saw as a
child, and I sobbed hysterically at the end. It got to the point that my
mother asked the players if she could bring me backstage to prove to me
that the actor who played Jesus wasn’t really dead.
One of my favorite
things about the show is that it is largely an ensemble vehicle and
depends so much on the improvisational talents of its cast. Therefore,
the show is never the same. Each cast creates a different chemistry,
uses different ideas and approaches to the text, and often puts a modern
spin on the script. It has become a musical theater student’s rite of
The Palace Professional
Production of Godspell, which opened Sept. 9, does tend to stick to the
more traditional interpretation of the show. There are moments of
original zaniness and clever improv that garnered some big laughs from
the audience, but much of the performance is well-covered territory.
However, the energy and chemistry of the apostles makes this production
The set design by Carl
Rajotte and Gary Goodrich is the very first thing to grab the eye as the
curtain opens. The audience gave an audible “ahhh” to the wide, white
staircase that takes up a good amount of the stage and resembles a Greek
or Roman amphitheater. The stairs are topped by what appears to be a
stained-glass logo embellished with a “G,” (for God or Godspell, one
assumes) in a style similar to the “S” of the Superman logo — an homage,
presumably, to the original Broadway staging of the show in which Jesus
wears a Superman T-shirt. There is little else in the way of a set,
which is a good thing, because the players are called upon to act out a
series of Bible parables using mime, sound effects and minimal props.
Rajotte, who is also the Palace’s resident director, has done a fine job
showcasing the ensemble’s singing and dancing talents. Their harmonies
on “Day by Day” and “By My Side” were spine-tingling.
The choreography ranges
from simple group numbers to more elaborate solos, and the actors
selected to perform the more challenging dances were spot-on. For
example, Chris Suchan, who plays Judas, moved well during “All for the
Best,” performing a vaudevillian-inspired soft shoe routine. And local
actress Jessica Scalese, last seen as Patty Simcox in New Thalian
Players’ Grease, gets to shine both as a dancer and as a vocalist
throughout the show.
Lucas Coatney, with his
high energy and quick witted- improv skills, very nearly stole the show.
He’s also a gifted singer: his vocals on “All Good Gifts” induced some
tears from this reviewer, and he blended well vocally with Wally
Calderon on “On the Willows.” Also notable was Raashan James II, who
ramped up the energy at the end of the first act with “Light of the
Now for the star of the
show: Jesus, as portrayed by NYC-based actor David Perlman. He exudes a
warmness that is crucial for Jesus, who in this show is more of a Mr.
Rogers-type character, gently leading his apostles to the message of
love, tolerance and understanding. However, the second act is
significantly darker, and Perlman struggled with the some of the
rock-style vocals and the more emotional demands of the role. The
crucifixion scene was rather tame, and while I didn’t expect Passion of
the Christ-style theatrics, a little more emotion from Perlman would
have made the scene more effective. Still, his natural likeability and
sweet singing voice, along with his chemistry with the ensemble, made
the show work.
Godspell at The Palace
Theatre runs one more weekend, Sept. 16 and 17. For tickets and
showtimes, call the box office at 668-5588, or visit