Godspell has gotten a new treatment at the hands of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and their collaborating partners, the 2 Ring Circus, (who made quite an impression locally with their work in The Little Mermaid a couple of seasons ago) and it’s a partnership that rocks, in a new way, going beyond the show’s beginnings as a 1970s rock musical.
The show, which opened Friday night at the Rep (in the theater’s final production of the 2016-17 season) to an excited reception from the comfortably packed house, ought to garner attention from the powers-that-be in the theater world, who might want to consider this show for a promotion to the New York stage, it’s that good. And so many humorous, interesting and unusual things were going on, it’s a show that some patrons might decide to see more than once.
Director Donna Drake has taken John Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz’s music, including the show’s best-known song, “Day by Day,” and pumped the show full of theatrical steroids by melding in the talents of New York’s 2 Ring Circus folks, who contribute “dance and circus choreography,” which is putting it mildly.
The talent really shows through with the telling of the parables of Jesus, who is admirably played by Hakim Rashad McMillan. Mike Nichols’ set design frames a variety of circus scenes in what is described as a failing traveling group on the outskirts of Birmingham, Ala., in the late 1960s when racial strife was commonplace.
With music that’s delivered in unique ways by unique talents who twirl and twist on the trapeze or ropes while they sing, the show is further enhanced by the clever costumes designed by the Rep’s talented costume designer, Rafael Colon Castanera.
It’s a true ensemble piece for the 13 actors, but the most memorable characters were Bearded Lady, played by Aymee Garcia, who has some amazing vocal talents to go with her antics, and Dog Clown (Ben Liebert). There is some awesome singing by Elizabeth Munn as an Aerialist who belts out “Learn Your Lessons Well” while showing off her equally impressive airborne skills.
And Ben Franklin, the Hula Hooper, has to be seen to be believed, with the way he makes Hula Hooping look as easy as riding a bicycle. Amy Jo Jackson as the Fortune Teller, impresses with her singing and stage presence as she did when she played the evil Ursula in The Little Mermaid.
Performances will continue at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, through June 25. For more information call the Rep at (501) 378-0405 or www.therep.org/attend