Godspell - Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre. Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, directed by Penny Brown, musical director Peter Brown. Alnwick Playhouse, July 7th & 8th, 7:30pm.

There's no fancy or clever way of saying this, so I'm just going to come straight out with it - Godspell is one of the greatest musicals I have ever seen

Having been consistently entertained by the Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre, I entered the show with high expectations. They were exceeded by a show which was much, much more than mere entertainment.

Godspell is Stephen Schwartz’s musical take on St. Matthew’s Gospel, which premiered around the same time as Jesus Christ Superstar (performed by the Duchess’ High School back in March). But Godspell has a looser narrative, a more spaced-out tone to its dialogue, and to be perfectly honest, it’s a lot more fun.

The biggest asset which this production has is the unbridled energy of its cast. You won’t find any awkward choreography or nervous breaking of character in this play. The cast of fifteen gel like a well-oiled machine, with each member complimenting the others in terms of physicality and vibrancy.

Unlike a lot of musicals, the set is really stripped down, with very few props or costume changes to get in the way.

This produces an insane level of kinetic energy, with the performers running, leaping and bounding all over the place. You really get the sense that everyone on stage is enjoying themselves, a feeling which rubbed off on the audience.

Having stolen the show as Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar, James Matthewson takes on the more serious role of Jesus. And he remains completely irresistible, especially when he’s twirling a cane.

Matthew Winter, best known for playing Renfield in Dracula, really shakes off that mantle with a commanding performance boasting great stage presence.

Elsewhere Sophie Hammond sings brilliantly and Beth White’s dancing vignettes are very funny.

Despite the full-on fun style, Godspell does have substance. It begins with seven philosophers, from Socrates to Buckminster-Fuller, arguing their respective corners on the role of God. Most of the parables and the Sermon on the Mount are played out, and despite the literal tone of the piece it never feels cheesy or preachy.

Godspell is an unadulterated triumph, with a brilliant ensemble cast and a great physical energy which made for an overwhelming and enthralling experience.

As I was leaving the theatre, a couple who had travelled from Yorkshire to see the show remarked it was one of the best they had ever seen. And, without the slightest hesitation, I must agree.

Cast (alphabetically):
Rhianna Bates, William Brown, Rachel Curran, Helena Davidson, Annie Davison, Hannah Firth, Sophie Hammond, James Matthewson, Chris Richardson, George Robson, Hannah Robson, Dawn Skelton, Stacey Turnbull, Beth White, Matthew Winter.

Originally published as 'Musical Brilliance', The Northumberland Gazette, July 22nd 2010.


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