Godspell’s not dead


The musical “Godspell,” when it was originally released in 1971 off-Broadway, challenged conventional telling of the story of Jesus Christ when he walked the earth.

Most notably, the parables/teaching of Jesus are presented in pantomime or story theater.

But as the show’s director Kent Whites states in his program notes, the messages are clear.

Frivolity, comedy and beautiful music are abundant in the production currently showing at the Granbury Opera House. In the end, however, the story is what it has always been, that of Jesus Christ coming to save mankind. We are reminded that the message Christ brought with him is timeless.

The playfulness of the show’s first act brings to mind the childlike curiosity the disciples must have had when they accompanied Christ on his journey. Like youths growing up, they yearned to know all they could about Jesus and his mission, never realizing where he was ultimately headed.

In the more serious second act, which of course leads to the crucifixion, reality sets in. Jesus comes to grips with what lies before him, his disciples watch as their friend and Lord is put to death for the betterment of mankind’s future.

Max Swarner is incredible in the role of Jesus. His warmth and compassion draws the viewer in with each tale/lesson.

Josh Leblo plays the dual roles of John and Judas. This concept is not new to the production as it is designed to show a special relationship between Jesus and the disciple who would ultimately betray him.

Granted, it doesn’t stray as far from scripture as the recently released movie “Noah,” but it is a liberty that asks the audience to suspend some disbelief.

That said, Leblo is wonderful in the roles.

As with any good musical, the music drives the production. But a musical without a solid story within is little more than a concert.

“Godspell” has as strong a story supporting the music as there has ever been. The telling of that story is just as great as the show’s music.

About that music. Wow. Pick a song, any song, and it’s worth another listen or four.

There is the stirring presentation of “Day By Day,” performed by Opera House newcomer Katie Keller. Caitlan Leblo presents a powerful “Oh Bless The Lord My Soul,” and Swarner and Josh Leblo combine for a playful “All For The Best.”

The first act ends with the company’s roof-lifting performance of “Light Of The World.”

Ashley Blaine’s sultry “Turn Back O Man” gets the second act started. “We Beseech Thee,” performed by the company, serves a bridge to the stirring “Beautiful City” performed by Swarner.

Perhaps the best part of “Godspell” is that it brings the audience into the story – not so much through interaction, but by hearing the same stories/parables the actors onstage hear. It is as though we are simply another in the group to which Jesus is speaking.

And this is a story I could hear over and over. In fact, I’m going back soon.