2002-08-31 / Community

Godspell at St. Rose

By Tom Zlabinger

Godspell at St. Rose:
A Review from the Inside
By Tom Zlabinger

Being a bass player, I have been involved in many community theater productions. Every pit orchestra needs a bass player and I am usually happy to help if I have the time. I must admit, some productions have been better than others. But there is usually something unique and special about each and every one that is worth the price of admission. To me, that is what makes community theater better than Broadway.

The uniqueness may come from your friend or relative being in the show. Sometimes it is just the
chemistry of the actors, musicians, and crew that creates a unique blend of talent and energy. In the currently running production of Godspell at St. Rose of Lima in Rockaway Beach, it is this chemistry, backed by enormous dedication that creates a wonderful production that should not be missed.

Yes, I have a biased opinion because I am in the band. But I would still be this excited even if I werent.   Godspell, the show, has a lot going for it already. The music, written by Stephen Schwartz, is phenomenal. And the book is based on some of the best material there is: the parables and life of Jesus. But these are just the raw materials. People must breathe life into a production to bring it off the page.

Scott Battaglia, director of music ministries at St. Rose, originally had the idea of producing and music directing a production of Godspell as part of the youth group at the church. Battaglia suggested it to Pastor Peter Gillen who agreed to the new venture of producing a musical in the
schools auditorium. Battaglia was overwhelmed with the response when he held auditions. And as a result he was able to assemble a fantastic cast under the direction of Bill Murray. Over the summer, Battaglia and Murray, with the help of choreographer Nicola Depierro, rehearsed the ten-member cast. Part way through rehearsals, the production lost its leading man.

Rather than recast the role of Jesus, Battaglia stepped in and played the role himself. But when you see the production, you could not imagine it any other way.

Although the cast could be considered to have two principals, John the Baptist/Judas (played by the same actor) and Jesus, it is mostly an ensemble cast. There is an even number of men and women and they all take turns telling parables. It is the combined talents of the ensemble cast that makes this production a success. The St. Rose cast has no problem keeping the stories rolling and fluidly changing roles from one parable to another.

In addition to playing multiple roles from parable to parable, each actor is featured in one of the songs that accompany the parables. Following the ensemble opening, Patrick Longalong is triumphant as John the Baptist in his performance of "Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord)." His acting throughout the production provides an edgy compliment to Battaglias Jesus.

Longalong convincingly plays both sides of the coin of humanity and morphs from the loving John the Baptist to the reluctant traitor Judas.  Barbara Hayes delivers a wonderful performance of the shows most famous song "Day by Day." But beware, you dont want to miss her as the foreboding head of the Pharisees in the second act.

Patricia Opderbeck counsels the other members of the cast in her rendition of "Learn Your Lessons Well." And later, as Abraham, she is hilarious when she asks the annoying angelic singers to "take a coffee break!"

Peri Abramsky next sings the gospel charged "O, Bless the Lord, My Soul." If you dont feel the energy of her performance, I dont know what to tell you. She has the whole cast (and band!) up and yelling praises. Later, during the seed-sowing parable, you would swear she was a weed eaten up by birds. Youll have to come see for yourself.

The youngest actor in the cast, Warren Sampson, sings the demanding "All Good Gifts." He does a wonderful job singing this song with a melody that wont get out of the stratosphere. Throughout the show, Sampson has included some sidesplitting improv lines. The favorite, as the father during the Prodigal Son parable, is always "Dont make me take off my belt!"

 John Schiavone opens the second act with a song that was not in the original Broadway production, but was written for the movie of Godspell. "Beautiful City" has a new meaning after the tragedy of September 11th. And the songs message of hope and renewal could not come at a better time right before the one-year anniversary. Schiavone also has comic roles throughout the production that include many stunts and screams. 

Najat Arkadan sings the show stopping "Turn Back, O Man." She comes down through the audience from the back of the house in a feathered boa. Get a seat on the aisle and she might sit on your lap!

Sara Maniscalco sings the shows most moving song "By My Side." Her delivery will make you cry. She also performs a violin solo during "All Good Gifts."

Henry Lagos sings the shows one and only hoe-down "We Beseech Thee."

Hell rope you in when he shouts, "Come sing about love!" Depierros choreography is hilarious; not to mention the cowboy hats.

And finally, Battaglias performance as Jesus is very moving. He spans the comical to the sincere to the tragic. Where he got the time to learn the part on top of his duties as music director, no on knows.

Ok, now you are wondering if Ill mention the band. Well, the One Love Orchestra is the bomb. There is enough energy in the band to go to the moon. The band is composed of five graduates of Queens College, most of which teach music in public schools in New York. And for four nights, this quintet rocks the motherload.

As I mentioned earlier, it takes a special unity among the cast and crew to make a special production. With the wealth of talent present at St. Roses production of Godspell, it would have taken a lot NOT to have a show to be excited about. But given the cooperation combined with dedication exhibited by the case and crew, there is something special in every minute of this show.

There are only two more performances of Godspell this Friday and Saturday at 8pm at St. Rose of Lima (154 Beach 84th St., Rockaway Beach).

Tickets are $10 and reservations can be made by calling 718-634-7394.

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