It's very easy to sing the praises of the songs and music for "Godspell," the hit musical by Stephen Schwartz with book by John-Michael Tebelak.
As soon as it opened off-Broadway on May 17, 1971, it began to gather a flock of faithful followers. And ever since, it has played in various touring companies and revivals, including the 2011 revival which played Broadway from Oct. 13, 2011 to June 24, 2012.
Last summer, a production was staged at Theatre at the Center in Munster.
This summer, it is at Marriott Theatre billed as "the Chicagoland premiere of the Broadway Revival" of "Godspell," now running through Aug. 10 at 10 Marriott Dr. in Lincolnshire, Ill.
Director and Choreographer Matt Raftery is the almighty force who is leading the strong cast of young talent for this new offering with arrangements and orchestrations delivered under the musical direction of Ryan T. Nelson.
It seems from my observations and perspective, "Godspell" must be a tricky stage musical to present to audiences, with an assurance there is a balance between the scripture lessons, served up sandwiched between the beautiful array of hits showcased such as "Day By Day," "Light of The World," "Prepare Ye," "Turn Back, O Man" and "By My Side," among others.
And through it all, what is presented must be interesting and engaging to hold an audience's attention for the two hours and 20 minutes, which includes a 15-minute intermission.
What unfolds on the Marriott stage with this run is much more frosting than cake.
It could just be my own personal taste. However, I've never been a fan of anything that feels too forced, silly or "cutesy."
This "Godspell"stars Brian Bohr as Jesus, who is a bit too celebratory for this singing savior of the world. Bohr has a wonderful voice. But what's needed is also a few more layers of complexity as the moment (or parable) calls for it. Devin DeSantis is by far the hardest working and most versatile of this biblical bunch, as he plays both Judas and John the Baptist. The rest of the production cast includes Lillie Cummings, who offers a heartfelt and beautifully honest rendition of "Day by Day," and Tom Vendafreddo, who has a silky and yet strikingly powerful voice and manages to also play keyboards at the same time with ease, as well as Elizabeth Lanza, Nate Lewellyn, Christine Mild, Eliza Palasz, Samantha Pauly and Zachary Piser.
I liked the imaginative, vivid and interesting set design by Tom Ryan, to counter what appears as a fairly pedestrian costume coordination by Erin Wuorenma. The lighting design by Jesse Klug and sound design by Bob Gilmartin are both in check. As for the properties design by Sally Weiss, there are hula-hoops, ribbon batons and what seems like the the smallest, most nondescript "Last Supper" chalice I've ever seen. (Thankfully, there wasn't any bubble-blowing or glow-sticks to be seen.) The Marriott Theatre Orchestra is conducted by Musical Supervisor Patti Garwood.
Performances are at 1 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 4:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays. (There are no performances July 2-6.) Ticket prices range from $40 to $48, excluding tax and handling fees. Students 17 and younger and senior citizens 62 and older receive $5 off a full price theater ticket for Wednesday Matinee, Saturday Matinee, Sunday Matinee and Sunday Afternoon performances. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings a limited number of Dinner and Theatre tickets are available for $55 per person. For Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening dinner reservations in The King's Wharf or Fairfield Inn, call (847) 634-0100. Free parking is available at all performances. FYI: (847) 634-0200 or MarriottTheatre.com.