Godspell – A Review

by Jim Dittmann
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By Karla R. Jensen 

Three musical directors at the helm. Two weekends of thought-provoking entertainment. One gospel from which exudes dozens of parables set in modern day culture, amidst toe tapping and memorable music that heats up the stage. These are the ingredients for the musical Godspell that opens this Thursday evening at the Beaver Dam Area Community Theatre (BDACT).  Evening shows are at 7:30 pm and matinees at 2 pm. If you want a show where the tunes carry the talent, and talent carries the tunes, this one is for you.

Godspell, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, is a like an ample dinner buffet; bountiful voices in every direction so full of favorites you sometimes don’t know what part of stage to look and which character to follow.  It’s a busy stage at all times.

Veteran vocalist Brad Westergaard, from BDACT’s Joseph Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, portrays Jesus. Newly returned Beaver Dam native son, Bryce Muenchow, is double cast as John the Baptist/Judas. It’s a marriage made in heaven, especially since the entire show is based on the gospel of Matthew.  These guys can sing.

Just when you think each actor is out for him or herself, however, the group rallies together and flies in V formation. When that happens, magic occurs. You have to wait for it. Although the audition banter by the chorus sets up context immediately, the show doesn’t truly begin until Muenchow as John the Baptist inspires us with, “Prepare Ye, the Way of the Lord.”   Then, you are hooked.

Although the story unfolds in dialogue and songs by the entire cast, you’ll find humorous moments (such as the puppet show) in this complex tale with individually delivered truth and improve, many times from comedian Dan Landsness. Keep an eye on the young Sophia Genco, whose voice is showcased in  “Learn Your Lesson Well,” and other pieces. She’s a rising star. Showman Sethe Christensen never broke character and displays multiple talents.

As for the main attraction, Westergaard is the gentle, kind and unpretentious messiah, not the overly charismatic savior in some shows while Muenchow is his high-spirited counterpart.  Jesus does show his brasher side with moments of righteous indignation, but throughout, he maintains a composed persona. Both men have smooth, trusting silky voices that compel you to keep listening.  Their duo in white dinner jackets singing “All for the Best,” is reminiscent of a cabaret experience. 

The highlight of their relationship is played out expertly during the Last Supper scene, as Jesus accuses one of the twelve of betrayal. As Judas, neither Muenchow nor Westergaard shies away from an impassioned hug between brothers, or in this case, master and servant. This is pivotal moment in the show, a sight that leaves the audience hanging in the hushed balance of emotion the musical is intended to provoke. Knowing the leads are men of faith make a difference. These guys make the story believable, but the story line changes quickly.

Often, the boisterous chorus on stage tends to cover up important lines that could be easily lost.  The story line changes direction quickly and music is delivered rapidly. Cast including Mina Kianovsky, McKenzie Gens, Christina Miller, Brienna Landsness, Jessica Lee and Chris Connelly all have opportunity to showcase their charisma. The show demands high energy and passion from each character. When everyone achieves this goal (We Beseech Thee, Hear Us!)the show is tremendous and will keep the story from dragging.

As the show wraps up, we, the audience, become the agonized disciples, watching the story of the crucified messiah unfold while Jesus owns his physical agony.  Powerful music has a lot to do with this scene working skillfully. Special nod to the masterful pit musicians, who are just as important at the leads. Creative use of light, darkness and striking color on set, especially the finale, will amaze you. Kudos to Ryan Klug, the director, and his team of geniuses for a great conclusion.

Tickets are on sale at Rechek’s Food Pride and on line at BDACT.org. They range from $10 -$17. Opening night is this Thursday, Oct. 13, with shows on Friday the14th, and Sunday, Oct.16th.  Additional shows are set for Tuesday, Oct. 18th, Thursday, Oct. 20th, Friday, the 21st and Sunday, Oct. 22nd.


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