Tonight was the preview performance for the Racine Theater Guild’s production of “Godspell” – and it’s hard to put into words how exciting and impressive this performance was. We have a wonderful cast that has worked together so beautifully – and they have seized this show with such passion and energy. The funny stuff is truly funny (which is not always true with this particular show) and the poignant stuff is profoundly moving. . . and I am especially pleased that both ends of the emotional spectrum are so well served by this production and Doug Instenes’s direction. The setting is also quite effective. Doug decided to set it in a theatrical rehearsal space. . . which allows it to be fairly simple and also quite versatile. And some updating of the dialogue was done which preserved the spirit of the original while refreshing it – as most things from the 1970’s require. (Have you seen the movie version? It is to Awful what Katie Couric is to Perky.)
Normally, I would have snapped a couple of illegal pictures from my seat during the performance ( I tend to be rather shameless about such things) but something made me hesitate. . . maybe the fact that I have too much going on this weekend to risk the possibility of being arrested and jailed. (For one thing, half of Carthage’s Honors Recital on Sunday afternoon would end up being a cappella.) So for the photo that’s at the head of this blog entry, I found a photo which I snapped on the very first day of rehearsal, when the cast met together to read through the script and listen to the music. Given the rather frenetic energy and perpetual action and movement of this performance, it’s amazing to think about that first run-through, with this high energy cast seated around a table the whole time. When I think about that image in contrast to what we experienced tonight, I get very very dizzy. By the way, the initial read- through is usually an interesting and slightly tense situation because the cast is together in one room for the very first time, and even as they are friendly with one another , they are also sizing each other up and trying to get a feel for how they are going to hit it off. And now? My word, they seem like eleven best friends to one another – and one can scarcely tell who are the RTG veterans and who are the newcomers. To borrow an important Biblical image, they are one body. And in a show like this, they really need to be – with a high level of trust in each other so they can be free to be crazy and uninhibited and open. And that’s a big part of the magic we experienced tonight as audience members.
There are all kinds of especially fine moments- including Bob Benson’s roof-raising performance of “All Good Gifts” – but everyone contributes richly to the collective success. . . and I especially need to mention the wonderful performance given by a former voice student of mine, Sam Hoganson, as Jesus. It seems like just yesterday that Sam was a freshman at Tremper High School, singing “Sit down you’re rockin’ the boat” for solo & ensemble with that special, endearing charm all his own. . . . and that twinkle in his eye, vigorous energy, and tender-heartedness really combined to bring the role of Jesus to life. Sam has never had a lead role like this before – and to see him rise to the occasion so impressively is among the highest pleasures I’ve had in my many years at the RTG.
I have a special place in my heart for “Godspell” because it’s the very first thing I saw at Luther back in 1978, the fall of my freshman year. And right after I moved to Kenosha in 1986, I saw my first public performance in my new hometown – and it was St. Joseph High School’s production of “Godspell.” So in two of the most important moves in my life, “Godspell” sort of served as a musical welcome of sorts. But as laudable as those two productions were, I feel like I have finally experienced fully how exciting and thought provoking this show can be. And maybe part of it is that I was part of this from the first . . . and seen this production come to life little by little . . . day by day.