The cast of “Godspell”
Photo by Steve Gibbons

Des Moines Playhouse has adapted to the current climate throughout the pandemic and continues to produce live theater. Last summer, they offered a drive-in. Throughout the year, they provided live indoor productions to smaller homes and streams of their shows. This summer, they are adapting once again by going back in time. Inspired by the traveling tent, during the first part of the 20th century, the Playhouse presented a series of summer tents. The tent series opened on July 9 with a production of John-Michael Tebelak and Stephen schwartz Gods.

If you’ve never seen the movie or a production of “Godspell” before, the show begins with a group of people arguing for different philosophical points of view. As the group continues to debate, a horn sounds, with John / Judas advising everyone to let them know of Jesus’ coming. When Jesus enters, he begins to share different parables with this group, with the group playing out the stories in several different ways. One by one, this group begins to accept its teachings, and various members begin to sing songs that make the other members of the group sing and dance with them.

Part of the fun of “Godspell” is figuring out how you want to tell the story. It’s a production where people have ideas for what the show should look like, so you want to honor that, but you also want to have your unique version. Under the direction of the artistic director Katy merriman, this production manages to do both. She brings some of the classic things from “Godspell” with the set and costume design and brings a modern take with the cast and choreography.

The set designed by Alex Snodgrass has a classic rustic look. Several boxes, boards and boards on the stage can move to tell each of the parables of the show. The back of the stage is draped in pastel, muted streamers used for the choreography of the show. The costumes tell a very colorful story. At the peak of the show, it looked like the costumes were going to have a modern, drab look, but when the actors left the stage during “Prepare Ye,” the costumes they came back with were bright and colorful. The costumes had several reminders of when the show originally came out without feeling dated.

Like most relaunched shows, “Godspell” underwent script and music updates for its Broadway bow in 2012. One of my favorite updates is the harmonies in music. The cast does a magnificent job with the intricate harmonies under the musical direction of Brenton Brown. Music attracts you and makes the audience want to sing along. The fun part is that the choreography of Megan Helmers does the same. The choreography was so fun and energetic that it made me, as an audience member, want to stand up and dance with the cast.

“Godspell” is truly an ensemble show. This brilliantly gives each member of the cast a chance to shine in the spotlight while still giving them time to blend in with the rest of the cast. This talented ensemble included Patrick Carew, Alexis Castro, Mar Feitelson, Shelby Kephart, Abigail Phelps, Kaylee Reininga, Sophie Rounds, Marisa Spahn, Cari Walton. Each of the members put their own twist on these classic songs and stories.

The heart of this show is the friendship on stage between Nathaniel Han as Judas / John the Baptist and Peter Noll as Jesus. Whether they were working together on stage in the breathtaking “All For The Best” or putting their whole heart in the spotlight in “Beautiful City” and “On The Willows”, the connection they have brings us to hear what each one is saying. This makes the audience feel the struggle Judas de Han faced before his betrayal of Jesus de Noll.

If you were looking for a production to start going to the theater again, then “Godspell” is the perfect production for you. From the fantastic directing, design and cast, this production is one you can’t miss. To learn more about this production or other shows presented as part of the summer tent series at Des Moines Playhouse, visit Home – Des Moines Playhouse (dmplayhouse.com)

The review was written by DC Felton
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