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Pasadena Theatre Company’s Godspell

Bringing the Book of Matthew to Life

photo by Walter League Comedy is at the core of the first act. Betrayal and resurrection deepen the second. All work well because of the talented cast, a tight band and simple staging.

Godspell was originally a college project by the show’s author, John-Michael Tebalak, then a student at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. Another student, Steven Schwartz, was brought in later to add a score, which of course includes such musical staples as Day By Day and Light of the World. Debuting off-Broadway in 1971, Godspell was a smash. It still is all these years later because of its simple staging, relatively uncomplicated music and the universal and timeless message of the Book of Matthew.

Given its youthful heritage, it might be a bit surprising to see that some of the cast members in Pasadena Theater Company’s lively production are almost twice the age Jesus was when he died. However, Godspell is a play about community as much as anything else, and community is ageless, as are the parables from the Book of Matthew with which Jesus teaches his charges. The 10 people assembled by director Chuck Dick are indeed a community, and this cast’s energy and commitment make us in the audience feel a part of that community as well.

Comedy is at the core of the first act. A more sober undertone of betrayal and resurrection shadows the second. Both work well because of the talented cast, a tight band and that simple staging.

Every Godspell needs an effective Jesus, one around whom the crazies can orbit, and John Andrew Rose provides just the right amount of wisdom and calm to anchor this production. He delivers his lessons with obvious love, sings his numbers with a strong, clear voice and is as adept at laughing along with his small community of followers as he is making us feel the searing pain of his crucifixion.

As John the Baptist, and later Judas, Frank Antonio is a strong presence, especially animated when he is forced to betray Jesus after accepting 30 pieces of silver to do so. Antonio’s bit of mime as Judas feels trapped in the box he has built for himself is particularly touching.

The rest of the cast each have their individual moments, from Joe Rose’s emotional and soaring All Good Gifts, to Lindsey Miller’s crystalline soprano on the rocking Bless the Lord, to Christy Stouffer’s faithful rendition of the hit Day By Day.

When Jesus and John the Baptist join together in the soft-shoe number All for the Best, we can tell we’re hearing something special, even though the band often overwhelms the two, especially Antonio’s double time diatribe about the rich as it patters alongside Jesus’ straight time. In such an intimate setting, one would hope that these issues can be ironed out, because too many words of too many songs get drowned out. The people who wrote these words, whether in biblical times or in the early ’70s, chose them carefully in this play to make a point. That point shouldn’t be blunted by unbalanced sound.

The occasional use of a microphone helps in some spots, but occasional use probably needs to be upped to almost regular use in the case of some soloists, especially when members of the band sing the beautiful and haunting In the Willows. The microphone is right there, on a stand, ready and waiting to be used. Might as well use it because it’s a song whose lyrics are as beautiful as the music.

Sound technicalities aside, this is a talented group who work together seamlessly, truly representing what Tebalak had in mind when he wrote the play: community. That’s something we need more of these days, and the timelessness of Jesus’ teachings is brought to life beautifully here, and will touch you regardless of your religious, philosophical or political leanings.

About 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission. Costumes: Christy Stouffer and cast. Music director: Tom Jackson. Choreographer: Jason Kimmell.

Thru July 23: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, Pasadena Theatre Company, Humanities Recital Hall, AACC, Arnold, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: www.PTCShows.com.