“Godspell” – Phoenix Theatre

Theater Review – April 22, 2018


Hormel Theatre, Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Back in 1971 when “Godspell” premiered off-Broadway, it was a revolutionary show with an early  pop-rock Stephen Schwartz score, a now clichéd religious picture book look at Jesus and his followers, a Bible study version of his betrayal by his disciple Judas, and an over-staged crucifixion.  About the same time as “Godspell,” Andrew Lloyd Webber chimed in with “Jesus Christ Superstar,” another view of the same thing but a show which recently had a dramatically successful rethinking on television.

Although “Godspell” was minimally revised in 2012, it wasn’t enough modification to make the show vibrant and viable today. This version is now on display at Phoenix Theatre with a disappointingly dated view of Jesus and his downfall even though the cast is good and the small orchestral ensemble bangs out Schwartz’s now well-known score with snappy pizzazz.

Michael Barnard’s production uses too many old fashioned clichés including a crucifixion scene where not only does it drag on forever but the end of Jesus’ life needs dynamic new thinking.  Some of the casting even plays into the tried and true show qualities including Michael Sample’s tall, lanky, long-haired, and bearded look as the Jesus we always associate with “Godspell.”  It would be more contemporary to cast a darker skinned Jesus who would be closer to the real character.  There’s nothing wrong with Sample’s blandly predictable interpretation except that, like the musical, it’s tired, expected, and lacks the event’s true historic context.  Sample sings the well-known songs well but we need a more dynamic portrayal.

Chanel Bragg brings a big sound to her songs, Michelle Chin whips out “Day By Day” with poised élan, and Eddie Maldonado is hyper in the dual roles of John the Baptist and Judas.  The rest of the ensemble brings explosive gusto to the people who assist Jesus tell his story.

The costumes are tired ‘70s clichés and the set is a collection of backstage junk from PT’s stock rooms.  The production is presented in the tiny Hormel Theatre and from my side aisle seat in the second row, I had to twist and turn throughout the show to try and see the stage pictures Barnard tries to create.  For one song, Jesus stood next to me but no matter how I moved I couldn’t see anything but the character blocking my stage view.

Phoenix Theatre is the Valley’s premiere musical theater producer but their usual magic fails to make the now tired “Godspell” relevant today.  “Godspell” continues through May 20.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: C