AJ Howard (center) leads the ensemble in The Croswell's production of GODSPELL now playing through February 4th.
I didn’t think it was possible for me to be surprised at a production of “Godspell,” which is a musical that gained wide acclaim in its heyday for it’s topical references, witty humor, and rock solid musical numbers. The fatal flaw, however, is that some companies choose to direct precisely what’s in the script, when in reality this show should never be done the same way twice. I’ve seen those productions and they aren’t nearly as fun, lively, and energetic as The Croswell’s production: which is their annual all-county high school show that plucks teens from all across southeastern Michigan and, in some cases, Ohio. This is a wildly inventive show that clearly has it’s gears in focus, and claims the merits as one of the best high school productions I’ve ever seen. It’s a total blast.
Everyone knows the structure of which this musical is built upon, it’s that of a series of parables found in the Gospel of Matthew. The parables are then interpreted in a variety of ways, with musical songs and lyrics that are reflected in traditional hymns. In this particular example, the talented ensemble uses “Star Wars,” “Dr. Phil” and a more ‘updated’ approach to it’s catalog to help tell the story. Taking input from his cast, Director Michael Yuen along with scenic designer Eric Niece, with top notch paintings by Michael Lackey, have created the perfect canvas for these students to shine. The set topples over with life size versions of Xbox one, PlayStation and even IPhone X boxes (the IPhone X just came out in November if you’re keeping track of just how quickly they snuck that into the show.) The set also has bigger than life variations of IPhones and IPads which have images projected upon them to give the allusions of live tweeting, and Facebook updates. These type of interactive pieces allows for slick improvisation by this young cast.
In any case, the songs are just as you remember them and this cast explodes with the chops that aren’t the easiest to conquer in terms of vocal endurance. A.J Howard is a stand out playing Jesus, and you would never guess he’s a junior in high school, he commands the stage like a seasoned pro. The same can be said for a handful of these talented teens, who float around with such bountiful energy. Simon Cox and Mercedes Pulley come to mind with their spot on impressions of Donald Trump and Dr. Phil. The latter of which had me rolling in my chair and talking for hours after it’s conclusion. All the jokes land the way they should, and it’s not easy to go for the political jabs and have it executed so precisely, but it does here.
Under the direction of Yuen, who was in a 2001 national tour of “Godspell” himself, the cast has all the tools to succeed, and with the veteran Dave Rains doing what he does best with a solid orchestra, all the trinkets are in place for an exceptional evening, or afternoon, of quality theatre. Equally the colorful costumes, designed by Natalie Kissinger, add an extra layer and so does the fluid choreography under Jessica Adams that help synchronize the show as one collaborative effort.
By the end, the opening night crowd was very much into every aspect of this production. The cast was having fun and engaging with the audience, so we got to be part of the magic as well.
Take the time to see The Croswell’s production of “Godspell,” and let it surprise you.
IF YOU GO:
“Godspell” continues its run Friday February 2nd and Saturday the 3rd at 7:30 pm and Sunday the 4th at 2:30 pm respectively. Tickets can be purchased at the box office prior to show time, or at www.croswell.org.