Music Stephen Schwartz. Lyrics Stephen Schwartz, Episcopal hymnal and others. Book John Michael Tebelak.

Directed by Roché Haupt Buckle. Musical director Justin Wardle. Choreography Kerry-Lee Knott-Craig. Set design and construction by Waldo Buckle. Lighting by  Gary Fargher. Sound by Grant Faiers. Voice over by Shaun Browne. Presented by Pinelands Players by arrangement with Dalro. Artscape Arena until April 24.

AS I saw the 1973 Godspell cult movie starring Jesus as an afro-haired hippie dressed in Superman garb, John The Baptist baptising Jesus in a New York pond and other vignettes, bordering on blasphemy, I was apprehensive that Roché Haupt Buckle’s direction might follow that same hippie culture which spawned Godspell in 1971. I should have had more faith.

Haupt Buckle, setting Godspell in Cape Town, moved away from the 70′s flower people into a “today” frame fusing her cast into fun Cape characters (albeit it with flickering American accents). And by holding tight reins no one overstepped the mark to turn Jesus’s messages into burlesque.

Based on parables from the Gospel according to St Mathew and Gospel according to St Luke, the versatile cast sang, danced and acted out different persona Jesus drew for his teachings.

First heard is Shaun Browne’s voice declaring himself God…King for eternity. Then, against a black backdrop with the five piece band (most competently led by Justin Wardle) sitting in a fisherman’s boat and a restaurant bar counter, John the Baptist (Greg Tinney) entered. He moved towards the bar, blew a shofar, at which the cast, in guises of different philosophers, gathered to debate God’s existence. All talked simultaneously. No one listened and the scene devolved into a Tower of Babble.Until John’s call to Prepare ye the Way stopped them, and Jesus (a compassionate Darik Velez) entered to declare He’s come to Save the People He illustrated the importance of forgiveness by telling about the servant who owed a king money. Although forgiven, the servant refused to pity a fellow servant. Resulting in the king sending his greedy servant to jail (hell).

Told in modern dress, familiar Biblical stories enacted through charades, mime song and dance included the Good Samaritan, The Sower of Seeds and the adulteress whom Jesus saved. First intimation about Judas’s (Tinney) betrayal came after the cast recited the Beatitudes and Judas directed the last one about persecution towards Jesus.

Over two acts Jesus’s teachings, death and resurrection are sincerely portrayed by sparkling Maryanne van Eyssen as Robin, Gary Kiewitz as Lamar, Tanya March as seductive Sonia for Turn Back O Man, Jennifer Moss as chirpy Gilmer, Byron Bure as vagrant trolley pusher Herb, Allana Aldridge as Joanne, Michelle Hough as Peggy and the disarming Doug Middlebrook as Jeffrey. From John-Michael Tebelak’s book, song and lyrics writer Stephen Schwartz’s compositions reflect an unorthodox upbeat, pop, folk rock, gospel and vaudeville approach to Jesus’s principles. Few tunes are still hit-parade material. But they make easy listening with words a good facsimile of Biblical text.

Kerry-Lee Knott-Craig’s choreography copies this upbeat approach with hand clapping, Chorus Line use of hats, step kicks, batons, charleston and rock ‘n roll moves. Pinelands Players have done themselves proud. But why head microphones? Diction was clear and voices strong enough to do without amplification in a theatre the Arena’s size Serving as a potent reminder of Jesus’s walk on earth, this excellent Easter tide production, is perhaps better suited to a church than a theatre, for its relevance to really hit home. Tickets R110 – R130 Book through Computicket 021 421 7695 or Artscape on 021 410 9800

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