By Andrea Baumgartel
Go see Godspell. Seriously.
From its through-the-roof vocals woven alongside intricate choreography by Amaris Bates ’18, to expressions painted in bliss and fear, to colloquial asides midst an almost ridiculous seriousness, Godspell is hyperbole in a bottle; a color-loaded rocket soaring through its own little universe that you won’t want to leave after its inevitable end. As you sit, enraptured in the nook-like Loft of Grinnell’s Arts Center, you will forget all the worlds in which you exist—save for this one.
Directed by Nolan Boggess ’19, the musical opens with a spot-lit Jesus (played by the vibrant Lizzy Hinman ’20) locking in the room with the words “I am most in majesty, in whom no beginning may be and no end.” Then, one by one, all cast members file in for the opener, an unfathomable conglomeration of multi-paced lyricism that reflects both the philosophical and religious distances the characters experience in the beginning. Throughout Act One — an experience infused with self-aware hippie-dippy genuineness — these teachings morph the once-poles-apart disciple figures into a collective, “woke” entity. However, the audience is plunged into a whole new arena once Act Two arrives, when Judas (played by the captivatingly earnest Sam Stickels ’19) ultimately betrays Jesus.
There is so much more to Godspell than this extremely simplified synopsis, but the experience cannot be translated; it is made for the stage and the stage alone.
“I’ve loved Godspell since I was a little kid. I grew up in the Catholic school system, so I’ve always kind of been obsessed with the Catholic, Christian musicals” said Boggess, with a smile. “So when this whole directing thing fell into my lap — I had acted before, but never directed — I thought, ‘what’s something I can bring to Grinnell?’ and Christianity isn’t really talked about and it’s just a fun musical that I love, so I chose it.”
In his version, Boggess mixed inspiration from the Broadway revival performance and the movie.
“We were going for that bohemian-junkyard-getaway feel, and we have all the classic tone shifts and face paint, but the way we’ve done the costumes, the blocking, [staging it] in this round, alley-like theater with seats on both sides, makes it feel as if it’s happening all around you. I think that brings to the table a really unique, immersive experience,” he said.
Godspell is the second show that the College has performed in the Loft (located downtown, on the top floor of the Arts Center) and it is entirely student-run—the production team, director, costumer, scene design, lighting design and stage manager are all students. Even the band is entirely composed of students, including some from Grinnell High School.
“Obviously it’s religious-themed, but a lot of us aren’t even religious,” said Victoria Robinson ’18. “It’s just all about bringing people together.”
It’s a musical that is able, somehow, to reach the ends of all the spectra; an escapade inflected with zaniness, feeling, and most of all, joy.
Godspell will take place in the Loft Theatre in the Grinnell Arts Center from April 13-15 at 7:30 p.m.