Jul 4, 2016

[Theater] Godspell (Music Artes)

There are a crazy number of theater companies in Metro Manila - or at least that's how it seems to me. But regardless of the theater company, you're bound to see familiar faces among the cast. And I suppose that just goes to show how small the local theater community is. Regardless of who's producing the show, you're bound to see the same set of actors vying for roles. I'm sure there's a similar phenomenon in other theater hubs like New York.

Godspell took me a little by surprise since I wasn't actively monitoring MusicArtes. They're a bit better known for their concet work and not necessarily musical theater productions such as this one.

At first I was a little reluctant to secure tickets since MusicArtes didn't exactly have a track record to reference plus it's not like I get super excited over religious-themed productions. However looking at the cast got me super excited and so I manged to snag some last-minute tickets despite its very limited 2-week run.

Synopsis: Godspell is a musical created by Stephen Schwartz with a book by John-Michael Tebelak. The play mostly consists of depictions of the parables from the Gospel of Matthew with a few from the Gospel of Luke. The MusicArtes staging was directed by Dr. Anton Luna and ran at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza from June 17-26, 2016.

The play began with a rather surprising note - this being the members of the cast entering the stage even while members of the audience were still taking their seats. It didn't mean people were late - it was just an opportunity to break the ice and warm up the crowd a little. the atypical nature of this opening for the show also helped set the expectation that this wasn't going to be a typical musical production.

The show proper begins with the perspectives of various philosophers giving way to the coming of John the Baptist (OJ Mariano) as he heralds the coming of the Messiah. Soon enough Jesus (Jef Flores) enters the scene and the show then transitions to him eventually telling various parables with members of the company fulfilling multiple roles as demanded by the story. OJ Mariano also plays the role of the apostle Judas in the latter part of the production.

I mean no offense when I say that in many ways, this production of Godspell felt like a school production. And I don't mean that the show was cheap or anything like that. Instead it had that same spirit of freedom you encounter in younger theater groups where it's more about concepts and creativity and thus ideas can go all over the place. Thus we ended up with parables presented as a Japanese samurai dramatic epic or vaudeville interpretation of another story in the same production.

And the audience interaction didn't stop with the conversations with the audience before the show and during intermission. Some numbers had children brought onto the stage to dance or to play games like Pictionary or Charades with, well, Jesus. And I totally got a kick out of introductions with the kids ending with the response, "My name is Jesus."

The ensemble cast was brilliant, each a vocal powerhouse in their own right and maybe this is where the core strength of MusicArtes that really came to the fore. There were very few numbers that didn't sweep me away or got me wanting to sing along somehow.

It was interesting that the visual aesthetic could probably be best described as "Derelicte" to borrow the Zoolander term. Costumes appeared to be quite simple and seemingly made from recycled materials and the set as well had the same look. thus we had the illusion of tanks thanks to various boards arranged together with the lids of water drums presented as wheels and cannon that could have been made out of cardboard or something. It didn't matter though since it all felt right at home, and thus my partner Tobie and I were thinking that it may have been part of the efforts to localize things and make it feel more like the Philippines setting.

On the whole, it was clear that that cast of Godspell had a lot of fun and we totally enjoyed ourselves as well. And while the show has historically always had sort of fourth-wall breaking moments, I think it's still notable how well things were handled with this crazy group. Thus the show gets a great 4.5 memorable parables out of a possible 5.

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