Eugene Weekly : Theater : 2.12.2009


Jesus Goes Urban
Godspell at LCC
by Anna Grace

The stage is bleak, all concrete, graffiti and chain link fence. Dominating the back wall is a structure of dilapidated scaffolding and caging, strewn with garbage and the bodies of the homeless. 

Right away, director Chris Pinto sets the LCC audience up for a different version of the 1972 musical Godspell. Prostitutes and drug addicts make up the disciples of the street prophet Jesus, with cinderblock and caution tape serving as his temple.

The cast of Godspell at LCC

Godspell was a huge Broadway hit, a ’70s amalgamation of smooth rock, vaudeville and good ol’ gospel truth. Taken from the text of the bible’s most lovin’est gospel writer, Matthew, it focuses on teachings of hope and other helpful behaviors. Despite efforts to edge up this production, there are ways in which Godspell will always be hopelessly dated. Jesus is clown-like, doing tricks for his goofy disciples. Watching a homeless man rise from a drunken stupor to bop around the stage pretending to be a goat in order to illustrate a point for the Son of Man? It doesn’t quite work. On the other hand, fist-bumps and Stomp are fun, and you gotta love an updated Jesus wearing Superman boxer shorts and a “Yes, we can!” T-shirt. 

Godspell is an ensemble piece in which rehearsal antics are traditionally worked into the show. This produces some nice moments at the Blue Door Theatre, like an impromptu shuffle of the cast into the pose of da Vinci’s Last Supper, or cast member Mark Mullaney taking his sax to the stage. Other bits might have been better left to the rehearsal halls, for cast members frequently have to explain a joke. The cast boasts some lovely voices and makes up for the notes they can’t quite reach with real heart. Chas King stands out with a sense of comedic timing and naturalness. Jordon Nowotny’s Jesus is slight, often quiet and very smiley, wearing skater shoes rather than Birkenstocks.

Vicki Brabham, who has more soul in her left eyebrow than most of us will enjoy in a lifetime, leads a talented band. Precision and talent blended with a heart of funk enables Brabham effortlessly to move the soundtrack into the 21st century.

Godspell at LCC is nicely done, but it must be noted that this is church. Groovy church, timely church, church chopped up into funny little skits and beautiful songs, but it is still church. I have seen many productions of Godspell, each one before this by a youth group or parochial school. While this production is superior to the amateur musicals, there’s something uncomfortable about a sacred text in a public domain. Pinto offers  up this production in the dead of a cold, bleak winter. Can messages of forgiveness, community, hope and love transcend our religious or political differences? Head on out to the LCC production of Godspell and let them try. 

Godspell runs through Feb. 21 at LCC. Tix at 463-5761.