Jesus musical has something for everyone

Jenny Halper

Come here, Jesus!” calls Dara Gomberg, a Communication sophomore, at the culmination of her sultry number “Turn Back, O Man.” “I have something to show you.”

Something to show us, indeed. Combining rousing music and joyful dance, “Godspell” imbues well-known parables with a decidedly modern spin. Narrating the final seven days before Jesus’ crucifixion, Northwestern’s production, which runs this weekend in the Jones Great room, presents the complexity of the Jesus/Judas relationship with all the fanfare of a Broadway revue, and script revisions like “corn, wheat, and Chipotle,” lend it an NU-oriented, comic slant.

It’s hard not to love a show where actor’s teeth glow in the dark and Judas and Jesus perform a tap dance number that’s part Fosse and part Astaire. In fact, “Godspell”s music has a wide variety of influences — from gospel to vaudeville to country western to rap — that made choreography both exciting and challenging for first timers Peter Evans and Katie Sprangers.

“This is my college choreography debut,” said Communication freshman Evans at the run through Tuesday night. “It’s a small scale show, but I had big ideas for it.” Both he and Weinberg freshman Sprangers emphasized the ensemble element of the show, along with a necessary focus on individuality. “(We wanted) to feature everyone at some point throughout the show,” he said.

Directing “Godspell” was a personal venture for Beth Gianfrancisco, an Education sophomore, who said she has wanted to perform in the show all her life. She spoke animatedly of her experience at a run through Tuesday night, calling her first foray into directing “very exciting to me … I’m really happy how it’s turned out so far.” She also praised her actors, whom she described as “just ridiculously phenomenal. They’re awesome.”

The cast equaled her in their enthusiasm, both onstage and off. “I love the show — the music is really great, it has a really wonderful message,” said Music freshman Mark Van Arsdale, who plays Judas and John the Baptist. “The other thing I love about the show is the cast. We’ve had such a wonderful time putting it together. It’s such an ensemble show.” Gomberg seconded that, saying the “warmth between both actors and characters on stage is what translates … (the show) lends itself well to a tight ensemble.”

The ensemble element is evident from the get go, when Van Arsdale’s slightly somber opening solo is interrupted by 11 brightly clad, enthusiastic actors singing “Godspell”‘s most famous tune, “Day by Day,” and dancing their hearts out. Each wearing a bandanna to signify their membership in Jesus’ circle, the cast retains a sparkling playfulness that keeps the show upbeat, even in its most somber moments.

Jesus, played by Communication freshman Sean Carroll, spouts statements, such as “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword” and “Every man who humbles himself shall be exalted,” that are always inspirational and never preachy. Adding complexity to the overall lighthearted tone is the Judas/Jesus relationship, which Van Arsdale describes having “long discussions about how to portray.”

Any trepidation that the play’s religious subject matter will stifle audiences? “I’m Jewish,” said Gomberg. “Even if you’re not a religious person, you can get a lot out of the show.” This is clear — more than ever — during the touching last supper scene, as much about, in Gianfrancisco’s words, “forgiveness and community” as it is about the Bible. Aided by terrific music and a committed, talented ensemble, “Godspell” is a fast paced, energetic ode to love.