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Washington-Lee’s energetic ‘Godspell’ captures spirit of original production

Joey Biagini, a student at Westfield High School, reviews “Godspell” performed by Washington-Lee High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

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Washington Lee’s Wes Horton and company. (Photo by Keith Cassidy)

The story of the life of Jesus Christ expressed onstage could be colorful, joyous and heartbreaking. Fortunately, all of these aspects were present in Washington-Lee High School’s production of the critically acclaimed musical “Godspell.”

“Godspell” debuted off-Broadway in 1971. Stephen Schwartz, who made the music for the production, used lyrics from hymnbooks and also his own additions. It is adapted from a book by John-Michael Tebelak. “Godspell”—a series of parables from the Gospel of Matthew with some modern references—generated controversy over its portrayal of Jesus.

Jesus (Wes Horton) and John the Baptist/Judas (Nate Kresh) lead the cast through many songs, scenes and even silliness.

Washington-Lee High School’s production was organic and energetic. The cast’s performance stole the show with their perfect balance of unity and individuality. There were some pitch problems during parts of the show, but as the show progressed, the performance greatly improved. Their vocals and stage presence in the musical number “Day by Day,” led by Anne Donnelly, were captivating.

Horton led the show in his portrayal of the light-hearted and good-natured Jesus. His vocals were exceptional in the musical number “Save the People.” Playing Horton’s companion and eventually his betrayer, Kresh rendered moving portrayals of the opposite characters John the Baptist and Judas. Horton and Kresh collaborated in their upbeat musical number “All for the Best.”

Throughout the performance, members of the cast stepped out of the chorus in order to portray characters in the many parables as well as sing solos in their respective musical numbers. All of the soloists had good vocals, but there were some who stood out. Zoë Bellars’ solo in “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul” was powerful and professional. Caitlin O’Grady and Emily Mathae harmonized beautifully in their duet number “By My Side.”

Jill Luoma-Overstreet played an eccentric character that was hilarious without distracting from the focal point of the scene. Her hair was teased, her walk wonderfully demented, and her outlook optimistic. Luoma-Overstreet’s consistency in her characterization was one of her best attributes.

Washington-Lee High School’s technical aspects consisted of questionable decisions in some areas, but outstanding presentation in others. Sound by Andrew Elliott did not falter, which is rare for a high school production. Eileen Soiles’ stage set created levels that allowed the actors to be creative. Lighting by Madison Lane was especially effective during the crucifixion of Jesus, where the actors, technical designers and orchestra worked together in perfect harmony.

The performers at Washington-Lee High School put on a performance that was inspiring, motivational and energetic.

By Joey Biagini, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  May 20, 2010; 9:35 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2010  
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