Making a Joyful Noise

HARVARD THEATER:

Godspell

Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew

Music and New Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

Directed by Danny O'Keefe

At the Agassiz Theater

Through this weekend

THE PRODUCTION of Godspell at the Agassiz Theater is a quintessential Harvard show. The cast is an outstanding collection of individuals, who can all sing, dance and act with panache.

Few Harvard musicals have enjoyed as stellar a cast of singers and dancer as this show based on the Gospels. Virtually every cast member has starred previously in a musical here, so all of them are up to the demands of the ensemble-style show.

Using skits and songs, Godspell tells the story of Jesus' life and the parables. Every actor and actress has at least one solo, and all of them live up to the challenge. From the hauntingly simple "By My Side," sung by Jacqueline Sloan, to Ted Stimpson's lively rendition of "We Beseech Thee," almost every musical number shines, and most of the skits are amusing.

But the show also suffers from typical Harvard failings. The 10-member cast is so individualistic that it fails to come together as an ensemble. Each cast member is so strongly his or her own person that the audience cannot focus on the cast as a whole even during the large production numbers. Furthermore, the show suffers from overenthusiasm--every piece is so heavily choreographed with dramatic, funny or just plain dumb movements that the audience is left wishing that the actors would simply mellow out.

Kevin Costin's solo, "All Good Gifts," demonstrates both the production's best and worst points. Costin has an extraordinary voice, and the rest of the cast sounds equally good in the chorus. But choreographer Betty Ludaici has loaded down the actors with so much to do that the audience can't concentrate on the song's beauty.

A SIMILAR problem afflicts the acting side of the show. Sherwin Parikh and Sibel Ergener both display a flair for comedy, using funny accents and clownish movements. But director Danny O'Keefe reduces their amusement value by overusing both techniques.

As Jesus, Jon Blackstone is one of the few actors who escapes the trap of hyperactivity. His gentle portrayal of Jesus as an unassuming teacher is particularly welcome in this frenetic production. Blackstone is truly moving when he acts out Jesus's betrayal and crucifixion in the show's final scenes.

Andrew Gardner, who plays the dual role of John the Baptist and Judas, is one of Harvard's best musical comedy stars, but he has trouble overcoming his part's split personality. Having won the audience's admiration as a sweet and likable character in the first part of the show, Gardner is less convincing as Jesus' betrayer. He is simply too nice to have sold someone to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver. Still, when he sings the show's opening number, "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord," the audience knows the production is going to be a good one.

The bare staging lets the actors take center stage, and allows the audience to see the very talented band. Under the direction of Allen Barton, the musicians do a good job with Stephen Schwartz' music, even the difficult "Alas For You." In a nice touch, the band even participates in a game of charades.

All in all, this Jesus has attracted a truly likable and talented group of disciples whose enthusiasm is infectious. Godspell is very good, but if the actors had been allowed to relax a little more, it would have been outstanding. Then again, who can relax during reading period?