Review: Phenomenal voices lift ‘Godspell’ at Alhambra

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Currently playing at Alhambra Theatre & Dining, the musical “Godspell" is a collection of parables based on the Book of Matthew and accentuated with music, singing and dance.

The stories in the production are familiar and good — love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, help the less fortunate, don’t judge lest ye be judged — but it’s the musical performances that make Alhambra’s “Godspell” worth seeing.

In some ways, “Godspell” is part Sunday school and part “Hair,” with manufactured smoke and ever-changing mood lighting. The performers are young and upbeat, with a predominantly hippie vibe and style of dress, except for Timothy Michael Quinn, who plays Jesus. He looks and sings like he’d be right at home playing Danny Zuko in “Grease” or Troy Bolton in “High School Musical.”

While quite whimsical overall, “Godspell” also explores some significant and powerful parables. These include a woman being judged for adultery and the story of a traveler who was beaten and left for dead, ignored by a priest and a Levite and helped by a good Samaritan.

“Godspell,” written and directed by John-Michael Tebelak with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, originally opened in 1971, but was updated for a Broadway revival in 2011. 

Aside from the lesson-learning parables, there are also references to pop culture, including an obvious reference to President Donald Trump during the parable of a rich man and Lazarus. As a matter of fact, before the play, the audience was informed about the scene and reminded the play was based off the revival performance from 2011 while Trump was a reality TV star and before his presidency. Also, unlike the original 1971 rendition, modern technology is incorporated, including the disciples’ fixation on their cell phones. And one of the most entertaining aspects of the play is when audience members are included in some of the stories, setting up a possibly unscripted result.

But the young cast is really what makes the show. Each performer gets the chance to shine through solos, and their collaboration appears effortless. 

There are few costume changes and minimal set changes as Alhambra’s “Godspell” relies heavily on the cast itself, which is a wise decision. While each character boasts a distinct sound and presence, Markus Mann, who played John the Baptist/Judas, makes an immediate impact when he enters from the side singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” Mann boasts a dynamic and soulful voice, and his equally powerful expressions provide context to his character’s feelings, particularly during the Last Supper scene.

Alhambra’s “Godspell” was produced and directed by Tod Booth.

“Godspell” is playing at Alhambra through Feb. 10. For more information, visit www.alhambrajax.com.

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