Much of the magic is gone in Theater Barn's "Godspell - 2012"

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NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — It's not difficult to understand how and why audiences have so readily embraced John-Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz' "Godspell," an engaging retelling of the parables in The Gospel According to St. Matthew, ever since its premiere Off-Broadway in 1972.

To begin with there is Schwartz' infectious — by turns rhythmic and haunting — score, a skillful rock-infused amalgam of eclectic musical styles and genres. Its central conceit — the retelling of the parables by a group of ingenuous young people who are drawn together by the arrival of a very contemporary Jesus — carries universals

The show's intimacy and creativity was snuffed by a 1993 film version. But for "Godspell's" Broadway debut in 2012, Schwartz did some rearrangements of his score, updated the spoken and musical material to include more topical references, and added two songs, one of which, "We Can Build a Beautiful City," was written for the film. It's that 2012 version that's being presented — with decidedly mixed results — at The Theater Barn.

With the right delicacy of tone and authenticity, "Godspell" is a charming piece in which we engage with the disciples, individually and as a group, as they move along their journey under the guidance and tutelage of their newfound master, played here by Zack Zaromatidis — a bearded, acoustic and electric guitar-playing, rocker in buckskin, fringe, jeans and T-shirt — with a kind of smug, patronizing, self-centeredness.

As Judas, Andrew Pace too often plunges into an excess of anguish. And whether it's because of this version's arrangements or decisions made by director Trey Compton and his music director, Alan Schlichting, some curious choices have been made with regard to tempi and tone of some of the show's more lightness-of-being moments. Among the more notable choices is the typically rock-'em-sock-'em sassy second act opener, "Turn Back, O Man," performed here by Megan Koumis at a softer, slower, ballad-leaning tempo. And that's emblematic of a production that, while it moves along steadily and dutifully, misses many of its opportunities.

There are exceptions — a beautifully rendered "All Good Gifts;" for example; for another, the treatment of "We Can Build a Beautiful City: and a truly lovely, moving finale that gathers passages from several of the songs into a beautifully shaped sequence that signals that the discord of show's opening has resolved itself, in the end, with harmony and affirmation.

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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