OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: 'Godspell' in Munster a stage test of audience creative faith

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-09-24T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: 'Godspell' in Munster a stage test of audience creative faithBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Theatre at the Center in Munster has garnered well-deserved praise and raves in recent seasons for trying inventive new stage productions and re-imagined treatments of some timeless classics.

Sometimes, new ideas and interpretations easily connect with masses. Other times, that line of imagination isn't as easily swallowed by all.

Director and choreographer Stacey Flaster is using a new scene-setting for the telling of the musical "Godspell" for the run that is continuing until Oct. 20.

While I'm not entirely sold by this particular approach for every level of this new revival production of the tale based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, it does allow for a fresh perspective.

Hailed as one of Broadway's most popular rock musicals, it features the hit score by Stephen Schwartz of "Wicked" fame and an energetic book by original director John-Michael Tebelak.

But I found myself a little fidgety, sitting through the just over two-hour trippy, upbeat retelling of the known-by-most series of biblical parables.

Described as "a celebration of worldwide community, packed with hit songs and irresistible goodwill," "Godspell" still remains one of the biggest off-Broadway and Broadway successes of all time, running for more than 2,600 performances.

So there's no doubt this musical has the ability to net new devoted followers of the contemporary Jesus Christ portrayed leading his pack through various lessons via song and dance.

Personally, I wasn't so easily sold on the beach setting used here by Scenic Designer Angie Weber-Miller, as the focal point scenery, which asks the audience to adapt to a journey of sand, beach towels and swaying palm trees. (Still, I liked this far better than when Flaster adapted "Jesus Christ Superstar" at Theatre at the Center in 2010 folding in the use of clowns and balloons).

The score of  popular tunes like the international hit "Day by Day" and "Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord," "All Good Gifts," "Turn Back, O Man" and "By My Side" still captivate, and this young cast of talents pulls off each one perfectly. It's the in-between banter of biblical stories retold, that for me, feels forced and plastic. This is a production which must feel organic and "roll-with-the-punches" to succeed at every level to convert audiences to believers.

Lead Liam Quealy is likely the most squeaky clean, scrubbed and shaved stage Jesus Christ I've ever seen. But he holds his own and proves he has the pipes to perform to his flock.

At the risk of feeling too much like Judas Iscariot, I close in good faith spirit that this "Godspell" will find the faithful filling theater seats. Once you get past the bubbles, beach balls and sand buckets, there are blessed moments that reward after the penance.

Tickets are $38 - $42 at (219) 836-3255 or (800) 511-1552 or TheatreAtTheCenter.com.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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