Wednesday, November 23, 2011

GODSPELL • Mustard Seed Theatre

A musical about the New Testament?  Sure, why not?!  Originating as a thesis project that ended up running off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1971 (where it ran for 5 years and 2,000+ performances), GODSPELL transferred to Broadway in 1976 and ran for another 500 or so shows.  This musical is presented as a series of lessons based on the Gospel of Matthew.  The original production was set in a playground, but has since been set in various locations -- everywhere from a museum to a McDonald's.  Because there is no specific setting for the play in the script, directors are able to be creative and tailor the show's particulars to fit the times, the city, etc.  This production, beautifully directed and innovatively staged by Deanna Jent, takes place in the streets of St. Louis.  They even worked in the theme to "Angry Birds"!

Cast of GODSPELL -- Mustard Seed Theatre
Photo credit: John Lamb
As the audience enters the space, the action is already taking place onstage and cast members are gathering -- a random dude paints graffiti on a wall ("Too many things, not enuf poetry") and city folk gather around during the opening "Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord)".  The people congregate to listen to a prophet, newly and cleverly baptized with a bottle of water.  The teachings of Jesus (an incredible J. Samuel Davis) include everything from the parables of the Good Samaritan and Lazarus, to showing us His betrayal at the hands of Judas (Charlie Barron), along with His end days.  These parables are played out in wonderfully performed songs, or sometimes a game of charades, or plays within plays.  As the show progresses, the ensemble, beginning as strangers, come together to form a close knit community -- and when you think about it -- that's all it's really about, right?!
Cast of GODSPELL -- Mustard Seed Theatre
Photo credit: John Lamb
There's a lot of talent in this cast, and it was fantastic to hear so many of these actors bust out some impressive vocals.  J. Samuel Davis was… well… divine.  His Jesus was playful, compassionate and charming, but also vulnerable, wise and stern when he needed to be.  He completely inhabited the role.  Charlie Barron held his own as John the Baptist and Judas.  These leads were bolstered by an energetic ensemble that sounded marvelous -- particularly in "Turn Back, O Man", "By My Side" and "All Good Gifts" -- the latter including some nice flute action by Laura Ernst.  It's difficult to pick out any standouts in the ensemble, because they were all truly terrific in their moments to shine, but I have to give a shout out to Joe Schoen as "The Band" --  in his little music shop storefront window!  He did a great job, and was completely engaged right along with the rest of the cast.
Dunsi Dai's set was brilliant, with its storefronts and fire escapes, allowing the cast to roam around in the space.  The costumes by Jane Sullivan were perfect, with each character picking out what they needed for the assorted parables out of an on-set shopping cart on the spot, and Michael Sullivan's lighting was provocative and powerful, along with Kareem Deanes's sound design and choreography by Julie Venegoni, Laura Ernst & the ensemble -- all complementary, all making a statement at just the right moments.  Love...
This was the first time I'd seen GODSPELL, and I'm glad my first exposure to this classic was in my own backyard.  If my childhood church experiences had been like this, I would have paid a LOT more attention.  Although many of these lessons are stories we all may have heard before, this production will leave you with those feel good emotions that ring true, and make you want to go out and help your neighbor, forgive your enemies -- perfect for the Holiday season.  So I beseech thee - go see it.


Book by John-Michael Tebelak 
Music/lyrics by Stephen Schwartz 
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
through December 11 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, Saturdays & Sundays at 2pm
*Saturday 2pm performances are "Pay What You Can or Pay With a Can"

J. Samuel Davis* (Jesus), Charlie Barron (John/Judas), Justin Ivan Brown (ensemble), Laura Ernst (ensemble), Justin Leibrecht (ensemble), Izzy Liu (ensemble), Amy Louis* (ensemble), Khnemu Menu-Ra (ensemble), Deborah Sharn (ensemble) and Anna Skidis (ensemble).
* Member Actors' Equity Association
Scenic design by Dunsi Dai; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; costume design by Jane Sullivan; sound design by Kareem Deanes; choreography by Julie Venegoni, Laura Ernst & ensemble; fight choreographer, Shaun Sheley; stage manager, Bess Moynihan.

The Band:
Joe Schoen.


  1. Glad you enjoyed it Andrea! Our Saturday 2 pm performances are "pay what you can or pay With a Can" - bring a can of soup & you get a ticket; we donate all the canned goods to a local food pantry: everyone wins!

  2. Thanks for the note, Professor! I'll add that to the info.