Review: ‘Godspell’ as performed in-concert Sunday by the Appalachian Musical Theatre Ensemble

Ryan Morris

Editor’s Note: The following reflects the opinions of the author.

A bold in-concert version of the award-winning musical “Godspell” was performed by the Appalachian Musical Theatre Ensemble to enthusiastic audiences last Saturday and Sunday as part of the Holy Week in the High Country at the First Baptist Church.

The show was the result of collaboration between the new club of student performers and the Appalachian Spiritual Life Association, in hopes of providing a lasting “gift to the community,” said Keith Martin, the co-director of the show and the advisor of the club. 

“Godspell,” which tells the story of Jesus and his followers through parables found in the Gospel of Matthew, was originally performed off-Broadway in 1971. Since then the show has had a few runs of popularity. Most recently, the show had a 2011-12 Broadway revival, featuring slight changes to the show itself.

The Ensemble features 13 Appalachian students from six different religious backgrounds. “Godspell” is their second production as a campus club, with a third planned for the spring.

This in-concert version of the show, consisting only of the songs from the newest version of the Broadway production and none of the dialogue, was a serious creative alteration that required special permission and rights on the part of the ensemble.

This bold move, which cut down the runtime of the overall show by nearly an hour, affected nearly all aspects of the production, as it stands separate from a full-fledged stage show.

The energized performers wore brightly colored T-shirts with no distinction of themselves from each other as characters, strengthening the ensemble feel of the show overall and transforming the show from a period piece to a modern musical review.

Simple, but powerful, choreography brought and kept the attention on the songs themselves rather than the individuals singing them; the show did not read like a musical in any sense, but more of a well-produced club/ensemble production of a collection of songs.

In an effort to showcase all members of the ensemble, there was no distinction among characters between songs and rather most members got a solo of some sort. This definitely kept things interesting musically and emphasized each individual’s talents as specific to the wide range of songs performed.

However, this coupled with the lack of dialogue threatened the reduction of the story from a character-driven narrative to a collection of high-energy religious ballads. Three different singers sung the part of Jesus in various songs, and gender roles were reversed from the original for key characters such as John the Baptist.

“It was a really good performance, I was really impressed by all the actors and musical performers,” said Shane Jones, a student who also acts on campus. “I think because it was in concert some of the narrative aspect got lost and I had a little difficulty following that, but I don’t think that was a shortcoming of the actors, I think it was just a difficult translation.”

Overall, the performers filled the church with high spirits and impressive vocal skill, which without dialogue in between emphasized the ongoing intensity of each and every song.

All of the performers were given the chance to shine in their own way, and their high energy translated into enthusiastic crowd participation.

“It was really, really fun,” said David Rudow, an ensemble member in the show. “Going into it I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but once we had an audience there and people to feed of off it’s really a fun show. It’s perfect amount of time to keep people engaged and keep us engaged so we don’t get tired of it.”

Rating: Three out of four stars.

Story: LOVEY COOPER, Senior A&E Reporter