Uncle Randy Productions

Dates 8 – 18 November, 2006 Venue Centennial Theatre, North Vancouver

Reviewer John Jane

Godspell cast

When Richard Berg decided to take Godspell out of the seventies and give it a new lease on life, he thought it might be fun to bring back some of the players from the 1998 Uncle Randy tour production. After all, the success of an ensemble production like Godspell depends largely on the bonding with the actors.

Two returning players, Roger and Jeni Haskett met each other on the 1998 tour and are now married. Another, Dan Jabour admitted having to get into better shape to meet the rigorous demands of performing in a musical.

Berg’s updated direction is grittier than the earlier adaptations. Costumes are conventional and less colourful. Gone also is the inner-city set and replaced by an abandoned theatre. (I had to glance at my programme to make sure I wasn’t watching Rent.)

The good news is that this current creation of Godspell is an altogether entertaining musical version that stays just inside the parameters set by playwright John-Michael Tebelak and composer Stephen Schwartz. It has all the exuberance and spontaneity of a high school production with the precision and dedication of a professional company.

Roger Haskett and Danny Balkwill lead a talented local cast. The broad association with Jesus, John the Baptist and the apostles is subliminal. Performers' own names are used as the characters' names. The show moves along at a frantic pace, but it’s not difficult to follow, even if you don’t know much about the Gospel according to Matthew.

Shelley Stewart Hunt and Shawna Perry have done a stellar job with the choreography. At first glance it appears to be mainly improvised, with a maelstrom of dancers moving in all different directions. However, there is cohesion in the chaos. Everyone always seemed to get to the right place, sans catastrophe.

Cast members were so uniformly talented it was difficult to single out any performer as a standout. Although, Emily Huynh and Jyla Davis distinguished themselves as featured singers on "Day by Day" and “Bless the Lord” respectively. Danny Balkwill, the only Equity member entertained the audience with some engaging solo stand-up comedy during part of the intermission.

Musicians Bill Runge, Sam Cartwright and Rob Hamilton provide first rate accompaniment and occasionally add support on stage as extra apostles.

Godspell takes a non-linear, narrative approach to familiar subject matter. Though the religious aspect is distinctly secular, it is a reminder of the joy of friendship and community.

© 2006 John Jane