REVIEW: FIRE Theatre Prepares Ye for Blaze of Glory in ‘Godspell’

The cast of “Godspell” Photo by Christopher Burkard Photography

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Like a candle in the wind, the fate of FIRE Theatre hangs in the balance and in the hands of Fountain Inn city officials. But instead of living on a prayer, this repertory company ends its ninth (and possibly final) season in a blaze of glory with a truly inspired presentation of Stephen Schwartz’s “Godspell.”

And the monster audience at Saturday evening’s performance at the Younts Center erupted in a rapture of emotion and applause as Artistic Director Zachary Pelicano, who has helmed the group for the last five years, entered from stage left for a brief introduction, and with solemn grace and dignity, took the high road without a single mention of the financial crisis facing the company.

This 1973 musical about the last days of Jesus features a robust bevy of rock songs structured around parables from the Gospel of Matthew (Lazarus, the Prodigal Son, the God Samaritan, etc.) adapted by John Michael Tebelak.

FIRE regular Dan Wilkie (“Guys and Dolls” and “Young Frankenstein”) in a Superman T-shirt plays Jesus and Pelicano is both John the Baptist and Judas. But “Godspell” is essentially an ensemble semi-devised piece of theatre and FIRE has stacked its disciples with a who’s who of FIRE veterans.

Vocally, this show is one of the finest at the Younts in recent memory – kudos to Music Director Chase McAbee – and each member performs their solos as if their livelihood depended on it.

Taking their character names from the original Off-Broadway cast, the “Godspell” gang opens in choir robes with the ultra-demanding “Tower of Babble,” the prologue that is often omitted in some productions, with history’s greatest philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, Socrates and Nietzsche declaring their world views in dramatic song.

Then, they immediately breakout into an excellent rendition of one of Schwartz’s best-known numbers “Prepare Ye for the Way of the Lord.”

And one disciple after another delights in ecstatic musical styles: Rachel Hawks lovingly leads the hit song “Day By Day,” Tracy Bogs dazzles in “Oh Bless The Lord My Soul” and Pelicano and Wilkie play off on another on the patter lyrics of the cabaret composition “All For the Best.”

But the most entertaining moments by the cast occur in the second act with the cool-as-a-cucumber Lindsay Polowczuk in her playfully seductive burlesque and “Da, da, da, da, da” in “Turn Back, O Man.”

And just as I was about to write off the choreography, along comes Andy Lecture (“Little Shop of Horrors”) leading a phenomenal “We Beseech Thee” and some lively and terrific movements (by choreographer Michelle Malone) with the cast, which also includes Nancy Burkard, Alecia Schulz and Hugh Murphy.

FIRE Theatre doesn’t have the budget of many of the larger, more established houses in the Upstate, but they have almost always strived to give their audiences a pure theatrical experience by employing a live band instead of track music as other houses do. Musicians are not cheap, but FIRE has invested wisely in the quartet of Meghan Reimers on piano, Deborah York on keyboard, Evan Hamlin on bass and Stephen Bevels on drums.

Pelicano also designed the urban back-alley set and lighting and Stacy Hawks (and cast) is costumer.

On the “Godspell” crew are Hallie Gold as Stage Manager, Lucas Pelicano on sound board, and production assistants Rosey Pelicano and Regan Pelicano.

And when his disciples hug Jesus one by one near the end of “Godspell,” they each embrace Pelicano as if it would be the last time. But just as Jesus Christ was resurrected, FIRE Theatre may flicker on as well as a galvanized community rallies around their theatre. Save a prayer.

“Godspell” continues Friday-Saturday, May 19-20 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 21 at 3 p.m. at the Younts Center, 315 N. Main St, Fountain Inn. For tickets, call (864) 409-0150 or visit http://www.yountscenter.org.

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