Encore Michigan

‘Godspell’ at Tibbits moves Jesus into the age of TikTok

Review July 06, 2022 Julie Linderleaf

COLDWATER, MI–“Definitely different than anything I’ve seen before,” were the words overheard from an audience member after the opening performance of the musical Godspell at Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater.

Definitely different it was. An extremely widely-known musical, Godspell, conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak in 1971, is still spreading its message from biblical parables and the Gospel according to St. Matthew on stages today.  A general message of love and acceptance, as well as stressing to “learn your lessons well,” comes with the self-same titled song performed twice to make sure it really sinks it in. The musical was so well-loved when it first hit the stages, it was quickly made into a movie in 1973.  After decades on the stage, the musical went through a revision in 2012 and has music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

Different? Definitely. But why go to the theatre to see the same thing? The artistic team at Tibbits chose to really take this production outside of the traditional box. Right from the first number, “Tower of Babble,” the actors are all yammering on their cell phones–individually and then simultaneously, tipping us to the fact tht Director Chad Tallon has some tricks up his sleeve to bring this 50-year old play into 2022.

More up-to-date tweaks: The cast, all dressed as different members of the working class from McDonald’s employees to postal workers and bus drivers to a woman in her pajamas, enter a bare-shelved grocery story called Save-ur-lot. They are led in by a security guard (John the Baptist, played by Dominic Green) who makes sure everyone is “baptized” with hand sanitizer before entering the store.
Gone are the very traditional and expected t-shirts with philosophers’ names–Socrates to Sartre–written on them. Jesus, played by Jack Hopewell, enters the store and asks to be baptized too, is then given an apron and takes on the role of the “Save-ur-lot store employee .

The show’s cast uses the Act One to tell the various parables and short lessons from the Bible in a manner that makes you feel like you are watching a drama class or an improv class. Godspell has always lent itself to a bit of over-acting with big physical gestures mingled in with big dance numbers, and that tradition is in tact here.

The mostly young Summer Stock troupe is fun to watch with elaborately choreographed dance numbers, especially cast members Liz Davis, Dennis Dizon and director even Chad Tallon. Musical Director Lori Hatfield makes sure the harmonies blend well in some pretty complicated numbers such as “Day by Day.” There are lots of audience participation moments and comedic quips thrown in to keep the show modern, like name-tagging Tiktok, Stimulus checks and Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

Audience members raised in church will recognize the various tales and parable:  stories like the robber and the samaritan, the rich man, the story of Lazurus and the Prodigal Son.

At intermission, Jesus casually breaks the 4th wall and tells the audience that they are going to take a dance break and they are welcome to join them. I’m not sure I saw anyone take him up on his offer, but it’s a very different way to introduce the intermission break.

The second act has a completely different feel. The songs are very slow and serious as the storyline paces toward the last supper, Judas’s betrayal of Jesus and the crucifixion of Jesus. The grocery store setting perhaps gets over-worked with the crucifiction of JesusChrist on milk crates.?

Performances run through Saturday, July 9. Keep in mind that Tibbits is traveling down the religious themed road and continuing their summer season with Nunsense July 14 – 23.

For ticket info and schedule, go to the Tibbits website.

Week of 8/8/2022

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