Theater Review: Parables get spirited retelling in Godspell

11/21/2014 6:00 AM |
The first performance of 'Godspell' is scheduled for Friday at the (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Performances of ‘Godspell’ are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the Jamesport Meeting House. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

“Godspell” is a musical retelling of the Gospel According to Matthew, in which Jesus shares parables with his followers. It seems fitting, then, that this year’s annual production by Riverhead Faculty and Community Theatre — temporarily homeless due to renovations at the high school — would land in the historic Jamesport Meeting House, which has its own history of religious services and has had numerous “resurrections” of its own over the last 275 years. 

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a book by John-Michael Tebelak, this play was originally produced in 1971, but was given an update in 2012 to make it more relevant to the 21st century. That idea is immediately clear in the opening scene, which includes a character with a cell phone, and popular culture is referenced throughout the show. Fans of the original version may find that distracting, but the opening night audience roared with appreciation.

Director and choreographer Anita Boyer has skillfully guided her small cast to exude a passion and fervor well-suited to the disciples of a man they believe to be the Savior. On opening night, she stood in for cast member Heather Cusack, who was ill, and she blended in with the cast without skipping a beat.

Patrick O’Brien is fervent and inspiring as Jesus. He interacts with his followers with great love and his delivery crackles with deeply felt emotion, whether it is joy or agony. It’s always a treat to hear Patrick sing, but there is a depth to his performance here that speaks to a personal passion for the material.

Each member of the small, tight-knit cast is equally matched: Linda Aydinian, Julie Crowley, Manning Dandridge, Nancy DiGirolamo, Patti Hautsch, John Hudson, Peter Nolan and Fred Nydegger, with Ms. Boyer as a stand-in for Ms. Cusack and a cameo by co-producer Glenn Abramowitz. Cast members work well as a team, especially during the dance numbers and when acting out the stories Jesus shares with them.

The musical numbers are an enjoyable mix of styles, from pop and rock to jazz and more, and many of them use lyrics from Episcopal hymns. “Day by Day,” of course, is the show’s most recognizable song, and Ms. Crowley performs a lovely, earnest rendition. Other highlights include Ms. Hautsch’s “Bless the Lord,” “All Good Gifts,” by Mr. Dandridge, Mr. Nolan’s “Light of the World,” Ms. DiGirolamo’s jazzy “Turn Back O Man,” “By My Side” by Ms. Aydinian, “We Beseech Thee” by Mr. Nydegger and Ms. Boyer’s “Learn Your Lessons Well.” As both John the Baptist and Judas, John Hudson employs his powerful voice and presence with authority.

The small band, consisting of John DeRicco, Mike Chiusano and Zach Branker and led by musical director/pianist Michael Bennett, is powerful yet does not overwhelm the performers’ unamplified voices.

Producers Glenn Abramowitz and Jan McGoey have once again pulled together a talented theatrical team to bring an evening of fun to the community. As they noted in their curtain speech, RFCT has given thousands of dollars in youth scholarships over the years — and raises those funds through a yearly production. Be sure to stop by the Meeting House this weekend, enjoy the fun and help support the RFCT scholarship fund!

Presented by Riverhead Faculty and Community Theatre at Jamesport Meeting House, 1590 Main Road.
Performances continue Nov. 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $15 in advance; $20 at door. Call 987-7209 or go to