New group Hope Theater debuts with inspired ‘Godspell’

The show requires high energy, creativity, and unencumbered joy — a recipe that this cast perfects.

Godspell is one of the most-produced shows since its debut in 1972 and subsequent film adaptation the following year. The 2011 Broadway revival book and score brings edgier and more intricate arrangements to the classic songs by Stephen Schwartz, requiring high energy, creativity, and unencumbered joy — a recipe that this cast perfects under the direction of Scott Heine.

The setting is a coffee shop — the crossroads of many communities. A live band performs prior to the show and immediately sets the tone. Some ensemble members are already on stage and dressed as everyday people. There is no fourth wall — we’re already a part of the community. After preshow announcements, the cast argues with varying philosophies in the intentionally chaotic song “Tower of Babel.” Josh Carias as John the Baptist (the barista) breaks through the chaos with “Prepare Ye” in a captivating baritone, baptizing patrons one by one as the stage is cleared of tables and chairs and set with strategic boxes and other items.

The cast of ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Sweet Ginger Snaps Photography.

The next person to arrive is Kelly Snow as Jesus. His portrayal was down to earth and compassionate, reminding the audience that Jesus was a real person who walked among us. Throughout the show, Snow’s versatile vocals navigated the multiple stylings of the revival’s arrangements.

Most productions of Godspell use a physical representation of conversion, like a flower, that is given to each cast member during “Save the People.” Director Scott Heine instead stages conversions as individual moments throughout the show. Each character’s moment of acceptance is shown through Jesus placing a red kerchief around their wrist. Separating these into individual moments is an important distinction, showing each character’s personal decision to accept and follow Christ and His teachings.

Betsy Hansen’s “Day by Day” was joyful and exuberant — leading many in the audience to sway in their seats and hum along to the familiar tune. After more parables, Band Director Drew Fleming emerged from the corner on a ukulele to accompany Rebecca White singing “Learn Your Lessons Well.” The fun choreography and White’s strong vocals were a nice contrast to Jesus’ counter-melody giving an object lesson about light.

Katy Benko Miner served as the vocal director as well as cast member — her powerful voice reminds me of Natalie Grant. Prior to her song “Bless the Lord,” her character experiences a shift in perspective as she calls Jesus “Teacher” before taking us to church with her soulful and engaging performance.

The choreography from Josie Corrado featured a wide range of styles including ballet, jazz, lyrical, and even lindy hop. “All for the Best” is a duet between Jesus and Judas (Josh Carias) as a vaudeville-style tap number — and the entire cast donned tap shoes to join the fun! Corrado’s choreography included movements and physical stories for the wide range of experience and flexibility within the cast. There were a few moments where the choreography upstaged the lead vocalist, but overall the dancing added a wonderful layer of storytelling.

Rachel Marineau shows her dynamic vocal talents on the song “All Good Gifts.” Margo Heine’s choral direction is evident in every song, especially in this ballad. Martin Kelly then energetically leads the group in “Light of the World” in a call-and-response rock style to close Act I on a high note.

Kelly Snow as Jesus and the cast of ‘Godspell.’ Photo by Sweet Ginger Snaps Photography.

Act II has a different tone as it follows Jesus’ final days. Dawn Gaynor kicks things off from the back of the theater with “Turn Back O Man” and playfully interacts with the audience between vocals. “Alas for You” is an uptempo rock song, showing Jesus’ righteous anger against the Pharisees. The band does an especially wonderful job with this difficult song. “We Beseech Thee” is led by Alan Pierce, commanding the stage with high energy. Soon after, “Beautiful City” gives the audience the gift of reflection through Snow’s beautiful performance, next leading to Jesus’ emotional grappling with His love for His people and the ultimate betrayal He is soon to face.

This production is different in a few ways, one, in particular, involves Hilary Pierce as Mary Magdelene. Rather than someone bringing Mary Magdelene to Jesus for judgment, Heine stages it as a friend bringing Mary to Jesus for mercy and guidance. A mob follows and threatens to stone her — but Jesus intercedes. The crowd disbands and Hilary Pierce sings “By My Side” in a gentle voice that is both captivating and moving.

During “On the Willows” led by band member Aaron Talley, followers each have a final moment with Jesus — many recreating their conversion stories through choreography. Josh Carias’s Judas joins Talley’s vocals as he grapples with his own faith. I often find myself looking at the ensemble characters more than the leads in an emotional scene, and I’m glad I was able to watch Judas. Carias’s physical comedic acting was superb leading up to this scene, but his ability to display the torment and regret of his betrayal was powerful. The end of the show is not a surprise, but I recommend seeing it for yourself if you’re able.

Band Director Drew Fleming led and rocked on lead guitar, alongside Aaron Talley on bass, vocals, and slide whistle, Joseph Evans on electric guitar and mandolin, Chris Calavas on drums, and Lori Roddy on keyboard and background vocals.

The coffee shop set designed and constructed by Peter Marsh was realistic and versatile — suspending belief within the framing of a recognizable community place. The expert lighting design from Dan Martin played off of the set and proscenium to create dozens of different environments for the various vignettes. The sound design from Frankie Stamps and run by Anthony Amico was seamless and the cherry on top of a well-run production by Stage Manager Rebecca Perez.

As a parent, I appreciate shows that are family-friendly without being exclusively created for children. The parables are told in fun and creative ways, weaving current events with musical theater and pop culture references. The improvisational nature of audience participation kept the cast and audience engaged. ˆ is truly an ensemble show that gives each member opportunities to shine. I can’t wait to see what Hope Theater does next!

Running Time: Two hours with a 15-minute intermission (not including the 30-minute preshow live music).

Godspell runs through April 10, 2022, at Hope Theater, 4173 Bludau Drive, Warrenton, VA. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 7 pm (except April 2) and Sundays at 2 pm. There will also be a Saturday matinee on April 9 at 2 pm. Tickets ($20 for adults, $17 for students or seniors) are available online or at the door until sold out.

The Godspell program is available online here.

COVID Safety: Audiences are requested to wear an appropriate mask that covers their nose and mouth while inside the theater. Hope Theater’s complete COVID-19 Safety Precautions are here.

New community theater to offer ‘Godspell’ in the name of Hope (news story)


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