REVIEW: ‘Godspell’ is a Godsend at Foothills Playhouse

Photo by Escobar Photography, LLC

The parables of Jesus Christ  as constructed by Noah Taylor are inventive, clever, witty, and unpredictable, except that one can always predict that anything he touches is going to be special.

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

The moment you walk into the Foothills Playhouse auditorium in Easley, you are well aware something is different about this stage.

The stage has been completely transformed into an abandoned textile mill that harkens to architecture of ancient biblical times. And a fitting location for the parables to come in the company’s season opener “Godspell.”

I have reviewed a number of productions here in the recent past. And while the scenic design has always been functional, the theatre is clearly upping the ante in its efforts to revamp its entire construct by relying on a simple formula that has led to great success with the Mill Town Players in Pelzer: quality programming and theater at an affordable price.

Founded in 1981, the Foothills Playhouse has provided Easley with decades and generations of community theatre, but has seen box office numbers sag in the last couple of years.

A new spirit, a new logo, a new website and a slate of entertaining family-friendly shows do “Godspell” a second act for the Foothills Playhouse under the guidance of MTP founder Will Ragland, who by the way also designed the set.

Noah Taylor of The Market Theatre Company directs this delightful re-imagining of the Stephen Schwartz biblical classic. The parables of Jesus Christ (the always-engaging and tender Drew Whitley) constructed by Taylor are inventive, clever, witty, and unpredictable, except that one can always predict that anything he touches is going to be special.

From the ingenious way his cast sets up The Last Supper with prop/set pieces in “Beautiful City” to the rag tag improvisational parables that are all amusing and entertaining (Jesus actually turns water into wine too!) and the audience participation from the front row on opening night (who wants to be Lazarus?), Taylor’s “Godspell” close to divinity.

Taylor has updated a few bits of the script to accommodate changing tomes. And while most work (the Martha Stewart line); a few did fall flat, like the Kardashian references and the snippets of music from “Grease” and Hanson’s “MMMBop.”

Even better than the morality tales with their much-needed messages of kindness and civility, is the wondrous music in “Godspell.”

Relying on an acoustic-heavy score, music director Julia Miller (recently behind the Market Theatre Company’s rousing “Cabaret”) with Josh Morton assisting (MTP’s “Beehive: The 60s Musical”) coax beautiful performances from this entire cast with Austin Smith (John the Baptist) leading the way with a somber, perfect “Prepare Ye the Way of the World.”

Whitley’s “Save the People” brought me to tears. Kellsey Vickers astounds with the wistful folk-rock “Day by Day.” Sims Hall is super in the bubbly “Learn Your Lessons Well”; Drew Kenyon delivers a sweet “All Good Gifts”; and Maggie McNeil soars in her jazzy “Bless the Lord.”

Cristin A. Brown’s “By My Side” in the adultery parable is truly heartbreaking and Ben Otto Sunderman rallies the disciples in his high-voltage “We Beseech Thee.”

And standing out in any ensemble is the pro Hannah Morton, who is on fire in her  light-burlesque number “Turn Back, O Man.” I know this is an ensemble piece but  the more Hannah Morton, the better.

But my favorite number is the vaudeville ditty “All for the Best” with those patter lyrics sung to perfection by Whitley and Austin in classic song-and-dance steps  choreographed by Ashley Bingham.

Other standouts in the cast include the affable and agile Nathan Oliver, Rivers Martin, and Bradley Miller

“Godspell” continues through Oct. 21 at the Foothills Playhouse, 201 S 5th St. in Easley. For tickets, call (864) 855-1817 or visit http://foothillsplayhouse.org.

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