Post-apocalyptic parables: ‘Godspell’ at Prima Theatre

By on April 10, 2019

The unthinkable has happened. World War III has occurred, destroying nearly all life on the planet. Desperate survivors gather in ragtag settlements crafted from the remnants of buildings, cars and household items Every day is a struggle, and the simplest of conveniences — a water canister or a backpack — are luxuries.

“Godspell” welcomes us to this post-apocalyptic setting even before the show begins, as actors, clad in mismatched clothing fashioned from found items — CDs, car mats, and the like — sift through garbage searching for treasure.

Into the midst of one of these colonies, there walks a figure in a long, white robe, a simple pendant around her neck. She is quickly introduced as Jesus. Her very presence causes the colony’s residents to stop their in-fighting — mostly — just to hear her speak.

The musical contains a series of biblical parables, acted out in drama and song by the 10-member cast. “Godspell” culminates in the re-enactment of Jesus’ final days with her followers, the crucifixion, and resurrection.

It’s a perfect show to stage at Easter-time.

The cast of “Godspell” at Prima Theatre includes:Tayler Harris (center); and (clockwise from bottom left) Donté Wilder, Ellie Faggion, Christian Harward, Wendi Yellin, Kayla Klase, Mikey LoBalsamo, Monica DePaul, Ashley Coia, and Josh Keefer.

But, what sets this show apart from typical Easter fare is that it can be appreciated, not only on a sacred level, but a secular one as well. Parables can be found in other religions, and in secular works — The Talmud, The Quran, and even Aesop’s Fables. They teach us about fairness, kindness, and forgiveness — lessons we can all appreciate, whether we pray or not.

This was the third time I had seen a production of “Godspell,” and each one has been vastly different. Most of the differences were in the areas of costuming, setting, and music.

But, you might be asking, doesn’t “Godspell” have a soundtrack? Wouldn’t it be the same music at each production? Well, yes…. but, no. The music of “Godspell” is the bones, but the interpretation and embellishment is the flesh.

And, wow… did Prima’s “Godspell” have some amazing music! Kudos to music director A. Scott Williams and director J. Scott Lapp for their modern, pop culture reference-filled offerings in both music and dialogue. It was engaging, sobering — and fun.

As the show is performed in the round (with seats on all four sides of the stage), there was nowhere for actors to hide. The staging and choreo were physically demanding.

My favorite thing about “Godspell” is that each member of the cast has a chance to shine. Everyone gets a solo, and this helps establish the personalities of the characters they portray.

Prima is not the first theater to cast a woman as Christ. They aren’t even the first to cast a black woman as Jesus. It was, however, a bit of a risky move in Lancaster County — “the Bible belt of Pennsylvania.”

But it didn’t matter. Tayler Harris has a powerful, memorable presence and a mellifluous voice. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her, even when she was allowing the rest of the cast to shine Which is how it should be.

There wasn’t a weak link in the cast, or in the crew. I have got to tip my hat to costumers Diana Nugent, Seth Duncan, and Hannah Viau for their creations. I think my favorite was the helmet fashioned out of old 45s in the shape of a mohawk.

Katie Moser, your set was incredible. I had a chance to chat with a stagehand after the show and she mentioned that most of the props were items found at Goodwill. What a fun shopping trip that must have been!

I was also blown away the the use of lighting. It was executed with pinpoint accuracy, and jarringly, yet perfectly, complemented the action. Big praise to lighting designer Tim Moser and operator Hudson Moser.

Every element of the show, from the set, to the lighting, to the actors, their costumes, and the band and music, worked in perfect harmony to create a flawless product.

This not the “Godspell” you might have seen before. It’s dark, gritty, and visceral. And yet, I can’t remember laughing so hard at any show I’ve seen in the past few years. Thank you, Prima, for constantly surprising me.

“Godspell” will be on the Prima Theatre’s stage through April 27. Purchase your tickets at primalancaster.org/godspell, or call the box office at 717-327-5124.

Melissa Hunnefield regularly reviews theater productions in Lancaster County and beyond. She welcomes your feedback at mhunnefield.eph@lnpnews.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *