Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre opens its season with a production of the 1971 musical Godspell that has all the charm of a committee meeting in search of agenda.
The show poses this ontological question: Why did God endow human beings with a mind if we’re not supposed to use it? The show, by Stephen Schwartz, oddly doesn’t answer — or consider — the issue.
Directed by Jonathan Beck Reed and played on Amanda Foust’s sideshow-like set, Godspell features, in an early scene, the cast changing onstage into costumes that bear a 1960s hippyish, thrift-shop chic. Then, none other than the reliable Lane Fields enters, playing Jesus in a T-shirt and boxer shorts. Soon, he’s in jeans and a baseball jersey with “Copilot” on the front (get it?). Costumes are by Andy Wallach.
Fields launches into a litany of theological bromides with the avuncular congeniality of the late Fred Rogers — “Everyone who humbles himself shall be exalted.” Do tell.
It’s vacation Bible school on LSD.
Turn the other cheek. If a man asks for your shirt, give him your coat, too. New Testament stories and parables march by like a newsreel.
Before long, the sweet-voiced Chelsea Clark (playing the part of Nikki) sings “Day by Day” evoking memories of Top 40 radio back in the last century.
The updated book is unsurprising and uninspired. The usual suspects appear: Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Facebook, Twitter, Obamacare, Psy and numerous others, all unoriginal.
The Prodigal Son scene is pretty amusing. It’s done in ten-gallon hats and a hick dialect (“puttah rang own his fanger”).
At one point, Jesus says something about tax gatherers and prostitutes getting into heaven, but they’re not onstage. Come to think of it, that might enliven the proceedings.
The cast does a fine job. Jamard Richardson plays both John the Baptist and Judas. In another of its admirable collaborations with collegiate theaters, CityRep presents Godspell with the Department of Musical Theatre at The University of Central Oklahoma. Making an admirable effort, the youthful cast is appropriate for the show, and they seem to be having a good time.
The production does have its moments. The sweet-voiced Caleb Baze gives a fine account of “All Good Gifts,” while another cast member signs some of the lyrics in American Sign Language. Taylor Starr Knight’s lighting in the crucifixion scene is a model of the effective use of the Freede’s limited resources.
It’s a clever set-up for the final scene, but the mock solemnity will induce eye-rolling among mind users in the audience.