Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 13, 2020

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, Godspell Under The Tent

Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA
Outside, under the tent, in The Colonial Theatre parking lot
through September 20, 2020
By Stuart W. Gamble

Godspell has been extended from Tuesday, September 8 through Sunday, September 20 at the current open-air tent adjacent to The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.

Stephen Schwartz’ timeless musical pastiche “Godspell” is a perfect panacea for our dire times. During this unstable moment of political, social, and most especially epidemic-ravaging unrest, this gentle yet deeply felt mainstay of the American musical theater offers hope. Performed by an extremely talented, youthful cast, this is the first outdoor, professional theater production approved by Actors Equity Association, the professional actors’ and stage managers’ union, since COVID-19 struck.

The outdoor venue is set under a spacious, open tent. The 75 or so in the audience are socially distanced and all are required to wear masks throughout the performance. Sanitizer stands are generously set-up around and within the tent. Restrooms and entrances/exits have two-way traffic patterns, a “new normal” part of life with which we’re well-acquainted by now.

Godspell Under The Tent
The stage itself is a long and wide rectangular, raised platform. Various types of chairs (barstools, beanbag, and director) are set apart six feet or more from each other to allow actors ample space. Tall plexiglass dividers on rollers are also used to separate actors throughout the show. Skeptics might think, how is it possible for actors to truly connect with each other in such an array? The simple truth is: they do. This is totally due to their incredible talent and enthusiasm and by the masterful direction of John Michael Tebelak.

“Godspell” has a very loose structure: a group of young people teach and learn about love, hate, truth, lies, revenge, and forgiveness through parables attributed to Jesus Christ in the Book of Matthew of the Holy Bible. But “Godspell” never has been nor is it now preachy or high-minded. It is light, entertaining, and full of humor and life. In addition, many audience asides and quips are tinged with Corona-era references, making it quite contemporary.

The show is headed by JC himself, played with charm and exuberance by Nicholas Edwards.  From the opening moment singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” to his final death scene (complete with falling red rose pedals representing his flowing blood), his soaring tenor simply bathes the audience with his charisma. Other highlights include Kimberly Immanuel’s tap-dancing version of “Learn your Lessons Well, ” a bilingual (English/Spanish) version of “Day by Day” sung by Peruvian-American Isabel “Isa” Jordan. Much of the dialogue that is in the hip-hop style of “Hamilton,” stand-up comedy-influenced storytelling (an especially funny Dan Rosales), a gender-reversed rendition of “Turn Back oh, Man” (actor Brandon Lee claims in the song “Social Distancing turns me on”), the lovely “All Good Things”  sung and signed in ASL by Naja Hetsberger, and especially the show-stopping “All for the Best,” in which both JC and Judas (Tim Jones) properly sanitize their hands and props before using them. The actors/singers are ably supported by Andrew Baumer’s musical direction and Gerry McIntyre’s inspired choreography. The actors’ denim-based costumes are quite fitting.

At the play’s start, each cast member presents a short introductory monologue on how they have been affected by COVID-19. The fears, hopes, dreams, and setbacks of these gratefully employed actors present a moving microcosm of our life during this terrible time, but their youth and positivity teach us that there is so much to be grateful for and to look forward to, as well.