REVIEW: Hallelujah! Theatre Converse Rejoices in Divine Revival of ‘Godspell’

The Converse College ladies from “Godspell.” Photo courtesy of www.cocogodspell.com/

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

There’s a gospel movement fermenting in the Upstate right now. And in the second of three local stagings of Stephen Schwartz’s1971 classic “Godspell” – Greenville Technical College just ended its run and FIRE Theatre opens next week – Theatre Converse has embarked on a festive liturgical outing  that, frankly, is for the rock of ages. Hallelujah!

And by outing, I mean outside as in an old-fashioned tent revival in the Promised Land.

This dynamic musical mines the parables of Jesus Christ mostly from the Gospel of St. Matthew interspersed among keyboard-driven rock songs and many lyrics lifted directly from traditional Christian hymns.

Aside from works in the public domain like Shakespearean and Greek tragedies, “Godspell’ is probably the most malleable and anochronized musical on the books today. And Director Dr. Boone J. Hopkins has faithfully encapsulated this show back to its experimental roots on a college campus and shifted the setting from Jerusalem to Sparkle City with the goal of “Building a Beautiful City,” emboldened by Meg Hanna Tominaga’s scenic design that re-creates visual landmarks from our fair city such as the Denny’s sign and the “Love Where You Live” campaign.

And the success or failure of a devised theatrical piece like this rests with the ensemble. Fortunately, Boone has assembled a fully-charged group of young ladies with verve and who are inherently synergized through the creative choreography of Professor Naina Dewan.

Though the sound quality was a little off on opening night, sophomore Hannah Burgess emphatically assumed the role of Jesus with bravado as the Magnanimous didactic leader and moral revolutionary who leads her disciples all the way to the Passion conclusion.

And junior Maddie Tisdel is a true force of nature as John the Baptist/Judas Iscariot in Johnny Depp Mad Hatter glasses and a red velvet jacket with patches and a split seam in the back.

And the music is simply delightful from the company number “Day by Day,” which actually reached #13 on the Billboard chart in its day, to “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” an absolutely beautiful “By My Side,” and diligent command of the patter lyrics in “All for the Best.”

The disciples in “Godspell” are usually just named after the actors playing the parts but in this version, the ensemble members assume monikers from prominent Spartanburg and Converse College luminaries: Macey Atkins as Phifer, Errin Baylis as Milliken, Caroline Bosworth as Blackman, Jaelyn Clark as Carmichael, Verity Grupe as Pell, Anastacia Hutchinson as Kate, Skylan Kimbrell as Zimmerli, Lexi Martin as Montgomery, Maddy Moreland as Belk, Ashton Reid as Twichell, Mariah Rowdy as Ezell and Mary Frances Watford as Wilson.

Also on the bandwagon are Music Director Dr. Keith Jones, who leads the rocking “Godspell” band from his drum kit, Dr. Melissa Owens as Costume Designer and André Lancaster as Technical Director​.

Student Kristen Waddell is Assistant Director of “Godspell,” and Caitlin Conneely is Stage Manager with assistant Stage Managers Kirby Lesesne, Alinda Horton and Haley Thomas (also props master).

Also on this production are Joanie Blackwell at the sound board; Katie Sams on light board; Zane Nelson and Tessa Russell on wardrobe; Gem Taylor as house manager; Jada Jeter on spotlight; and  Derrik Williams and Sam Ellis as running crew. Liz Grey is the Converse Costume Shop Manager and Dr. Chandra Owenby Hopkins is Resident Dramaturg with student Michelle Hernandez as Co-Dramaturg.

Also, I commend our local college theatre programs for leading the effort in environmental responsibility. I attended my first environmentally sustainable production at Limestone College last month with “Peter and the Starcatcher” and Theatre Converse is doing this show without paper playbills. There is a QR code you can scan on your smartphone or visit their “Godspell” website at http://www.cocogodspell.com.

“Godspell” continues May 4-6, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 7 at 2 p.m. at Converse College in Spartanburg. The Amphitheatre is located on the back side of the campus. Enter from Drayton Avenue. Box Office (864) 596-9725 or visit http://www.cocogodspell.com

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