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Review: Godspell – Bringing the Bible to the stage

If St. Matthew decided to write his Gospel on sheet music with tight harmonies and pop vocals, it would sound a lot like “Godspell.”

The musical – created by John-Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz – recounts biblical teachings with a free-spirited, almost Bohemian vibe.

It opened off-Broadway in May 1971 before moving to Broadway five years later. The influence of the ‘70s in lighting, props and set was noticeable in the musical’s production at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

The first act, which showcases songs “Day By Day,” “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul” and “Save the People,” primarily focuses on Jesus, played by Craig Sculli, who tells of love, forgiveness and God’s teachings.

A partially lit stage – decorated with scaffolding, street signs and a billboard from God that asks, “Anyone there?” – welcomes the audience.

A variety of power ballads and pop beats summarized the scenes, providing a colorful twist to the traditional stories.

The second act, however, portrays a darker tone. Actor Heather Krueger saunters throughout the audience, singing the enticing lyrics of “Turn Back, O Man,” which speaks of repentance and sins of the flesh.

This act – with its darker lighting incorporating red and spotlights – increases drama and heightens tension as each scene builds up to the betrayal and death of Jesus.

The interpretation at the Straz Center was extremely entertaining and refreshingly simplistic in a way that avoided amateurism.

Though Sculli’s overall performance was weaker than his fellow actors, he sung his final songs very well.

Alison Burns also delivered a stellar performance with harmonious vocals and colorful acting that made her character authentic and not contrived.

“Godspell” will be at the Straz Center through May 16. Tickets are $31.50. Visit strazcenter.org for more information.