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Godspell Review - A Heavenly Performance

By Noel Schecter

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Andrew Lund (asJesus) and Jake Mahler (here as John the Baptist)

In their third major production, Brown Paper Box Company continues to create work that operates  outside the box.  Operating under the direction of M. William Panek, Brown Paper Box reinterprets well the often produced Godspell.  Key to this is the play’s willingness to strip everything down to the bare bones.  Whereas the most recent Broadway revival featured lavish set designs and over-the-top costumes, this production rests almost entirely on the talent of the actors.  Luckily the cast here is more than up to the challenge and what could have been a clichéd and worn out production instead appears original and highly entertaining.

Stephanie Rohr takes center stage

In my opinion the enduring success of Godspell lies in its ability to present parable after parable in a way untypical of a Sunday sermon.  And while the plot does, of course, move toward the crucifixion of Jesus it is not the focus here.  Rather it is the message of love and forgiveness that is central to the Gospel of Mathew.  For that reason it is essential that the role of Jesus is cast just right; you want someone capable of preaching, but not someone who comes off as too preachy.  Andrew Lund is just that person as he does a wonderful job of conveying wisdom and compassion in a natural and unforced manner.  Also standing out in this production are Veronica Garza, who delivered an amazing rendition of Day by Day, Jake Mahler (who has just the right amount of intensity as John the Baptist and then later convincingly slithers away as Judas), and Jeanne T. Arrigo whose voice and guitar play anchor a very well put together playReally though, there is not a miscast person in the lot and everyone present does well to distinguish themselves with guitars, banjos, ukuleles and keyboards.  They also effortlessly harmonized together and made familiar songs fresh and poignant. 

Andrew Lund, Pavi Proczko, and Veronica Garza

Although sparsely stage set (M. William Panek is also credited with set design), the performance does display many creative touches.  The characters, when not directly engaged, typically text or type away on iPhones and MacBooks (midway through I wondered if perhaps Apple paid for product placement, if so all the power to you Brown Paper Box).   Beyond keeping the material fresh, it also served as a logical way of showing characters often disconnected with the events on stage.  Other props include basic chairs, a few cheaply made bookcases, a lot of typing paper, and a long fold up table that left me a little nervous each time it was used as a makeshift stage.  Lighting was used for maximum effect. 

Andrew Lund and Jake Mahler

Altogether Godspell made for an excellent night of entertainment.  I have never actually been to Sunday school (and no more than once to church).  This performance of Godspell made me a little jealous of those more familiar with the source material.

Andrew Lund and Jake Mahler

Bottom line:  Godspell is highly recommended for its wonderful, intimate, and talented take on an old standby.  It is currently playing at the Flat Iron Building (1579 N. Milwaukee) in Wicker Park.  To purchase tickets click here:  http://www.brownpaperbox.org/godspell.html  For more information related to this and other plays click here:  http://www.theatreinchicago.com/

 

Stephanie Rohr, Veronica Garza, and Pavi Proczko

Photos provided by Brown Paper Box Company

  

Published on Sep 23, 2012

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