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April 05, 1980 - Image 7

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1980-04-05

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The Michigan Daily-Saturday, April 5, 1980-Page 7

'GODSPELL'

'A spoonful

of

religious sugar
s seemed worst members of the ensemble manage to material-often coy and artificial, but
es of sappy sen- show fleeting glimpses of an assured somehow immensely charming
its parody and comic sensibility. anyway.

By DENNIS HARVEY
Godspell is a frail, appealling but
asily botched conceit-pure whimsy is
a difficult genre to sustain for very.
long. Like such sunny hippy period
pieces as "Harold and Maude" and
"The King of Hearts" (both of which,
not incidentally, failed to survive the
transfer from silver screen to $road-
way stage), it must ride or fall entirely
on charm and energy.
There's a dangerously thin line bet-
,ween straining for cuteness and being
qenuinely cute; Godspell as a play con-
tantly risks milking its sweetness to,
the point of a sucrose overdose. John-
Michael Tebelak's book is just a
pastiche of parables drawn from the
Gospel According to St. Matthew, its
New Testament moral lessons jazzed
tip for pop appeal through a series of
vaudeville skits and dancing-in-the-
aisles opentheatre stuff carefully
weaned from Hair. Stephen Schwartz'
score is an aggressively catchy bunch of
p Broadway tunes, at its best ap-
'ropriately exhilarating in a curiously
shallow but satisfying way, and at its
worse merely slick, banal and wet.
THERE'S something almost em-
barrassing about . the whole
idea-Christ and Co. as playground
Jesus freaks, all scrubbed,, winsome,
and trying hard as hell to please-if
only because it demands that the
audience lay aside any of those full old
*dult expectations for sophistication'
and regress about ten or twenty years
to a state of Disneyland good cheer. If
the sweetness and light are pushed too
far, Godspell's slight but genuine
charms become about as substantial as
a pile of sugar in a gale.
UAC-Musket's new production of the
musical, running through this Sunday
evening, for the most part achieves just
the right atmosphere of communal,
harmless good will, though in spots it
Oes take the almost-inevitable tumble
-into excessive adorableness. Musket's
show is in many ways an archetypical

Godspell, with every wide-element
neatly in its plaep, all of them looking
predictably coy but no less likeable for
it: the usual day-glo-colored costumes;
the rather blatantly set-up "casual"
feel through an absence of all but the
plainest props and settings; the usual
puppy-dog affability and sometimes
relentless perkiness of the cast. This
production doesn't, oddly, really lose
much by being transplanted from its
usual close quarters to the larger con-
fines of the Power Center. If anything,
by forcing the cast and staging the work
even harder to pump out that elusive
mood of intimacy and unstructured fun,
the more coolly expansive surroun-
dings crystallize still further Godspell's
peculiar strength and wan weaknesses.
The show has been built this time
around Michele Melkerson's
choreography, which gets the always-
shaky prologue, an exercise in concep-
tual pretentiousness, off to a visually
striking start. As the cast is forced to
recite a battery of philosophical
pronouncements from various
historical figures, their jerky,
mechanically repeated movements
made them look like performing drones
out of some bizarre musical version of
"Metropolis." Like much of Melker-
son's choreography through the rest of
the evening, this sequence borders on
the ludicrous in its straining-to-be-
different, at times gimmicky
realization, yet it grabs attention all the
same. There were occasional moments
of awkwardness and a clumsy lack of
group synch, but most of the time the
actors allowed themselves to be turned
most effectively into a succession of
stylized geometric figures and at-
tenuated postures. The constant sym-
metry was amusing even when it
seemed dangerously trite-as in the all-
too-familiar writhing-on-the-floor bit
during the crucifixion episode, and
other stretches of unavoidable
seriousness.

THE PLAY has alway
in its inevitable interlud
timent. Many of the b

Be an angel.
*
Read Jie iati
764-0558

gleefully upset the holier-than-thou
sanctimoniousness of this kind of
outlook, but the whole thing nearly
collapses when Schwartz and Tebelak
periodically decide to take themselves
and their clowns seriously. Ballads like
"Day by Day," "Beautiful City," and
"All Good Gifts," though slickly ap-
pealling (perhaps too slickly) as pop,
too often reduce the cast to sitting
around like the Johnny Mann Singers,
mellowing out, like, uh, spiritually while
singing soupy professions of faith.
These sequences can't be saved from
stickiness too easily, and the Musket
company don't make it by pouring on
all the sickly sincerity they can muster
up. The goo runneth over-yecch, the
cast even resorts to blowing kisses into
the audience at one point. This kind of
we-luv-you stuff is the source of God-
spell's endless popularity. All that dewy
communal affection is enticing-and, con-
veniently, morally pure as well-even though
not all viewers like to admit it, and also the;
source of its spurts of winsome nausea. Even1
"On the Willows," the show's most at-
tractive ballad, can't avoid sounding a;
little solemn and silly amid so much
circus whimsy. "Willows," however,
benefits vastly from the best vocals of
the evening-delivered not by members
of the cast (whose singing was usually
competent but rarely exceptional), but
by band members Mark Koehneke and
Madelyn Rubinstein. '
The more upbeat numbers came off
considerable better, thanks to Melker-
son's most imaginative dancing and
positioning. Clever staging of the
Noah's Ark saga, the Prodigal Son
parable stuck out particularly. Director
Helen Oravetz seems to have instructed
the cast to take the sheenn playgrounds
infantilism implicit in the musical all
the way, even to the point of singing inI
whining (and very funny) baby-talk atI
one point. This grinning cuteness
sometimes goes too far,- but a few l

MINDY MARSH, Nafe Alick and
Peter Slutsker all had notable moments
of background or foreground in-
spiration during the various mock mor-
tality plays trotted out at frequent in-
tervals. Slutsker's timing seemed par-
ticularly sharp, though he strained to
keep up with the energy level deman-
ded of the vocals in "All for the Best," a
satirically show-bizzy duet. John
Murelle's John the Baptist figure
showed vocal and performing authority
early on, though later he faded into the
pack. As the usual white-faced Jesus,
Kirk Erickson neatly avoided the kind
of cringing pathos that too often turns
the part to slush, but both his piping
singing anf verbal delivery were a bit
too affected for comfort.
Godspell doesn't particularly need
(and it probably can't really support)
any outstanding personalities among
its nameless disciples-the inter-
changeable cheeriness of the ensemble
is a major part of that innocent Jesus-
freak appeal-but Musket's production
nearly had one in spite of itself in Judy
Milstein. Picking up and dropping
various illustrative characterizations
(old woman, toddler, even a squirrel,
briefly) with hilarious perciseness, she
has the talent to be at once sweet and
shrewdly funny, typifying the musical's
greatest pleasures without slipping into
the sunny banality it unintentionally
courts. She also hit the heights with a
great Broomhilda solo, croaking and
lewd; on the mock-burlesque grind
"Turn Back, 0 Man," always one of the
work's most entertaining bursts of
Broadway theatricality.
Musket's Godspell is, finally, a highly
satisfactory production, exhilarating in
most of the right places and generally
forgiveable when it isn't. The musical
itself is already beginning to look dated,
with all of that lokum, uplift and tribal
niceness mix-mastered together into
something that still carries an odd
charge even when it approaches the
numbingly sweet. Its early-70's feel
(complete with hand-slapping and
other strangely aged details here)
already gives it the stamp of a period
piece, a label that may be premature
but isn't necessarily bad. This produc-
tion of Godspell is a enjoyable, and as
limited and flawed, as its

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The Ann Arbor Film Cooperaive presents at MLB: $1.50
SATURDAY, APRIL 5
ERASERHEAD (David Lynch, 1977) 7A&10:20MLB3
ERASERHEAD returns to Ann Arbor. A coherent plot description is nearly impossible. Suffice it to say that
director Lynch has created a true cinematic rarity: an original work that seemingly has no antecedents in
thee horror genre. "The special effects are simply extraordinary. I am not easily given to overstatement.
See this thing."-David Bartholomew, Cinefantostique
THE WOLF MAN (George Waggner, 1941) 8:40 MLB3
"Even a man who's pure of heart and says his prayers at night may become a wolf when the wolf-bone
blooms and the moon is full and "bright." Enough said? One of the oll time great horror films
featuring a superb cast: CLAUDE RAINES, BELA LUGOSI and LON CHANEY JR. in his greatest role.
Next Monday: Ernst Lubitsch Night with DESIGN FOR LIVING and TO BE OR
NOT TO BE at Aud. A. Free.

rSIN EAresents

1

N' ', .
'

MIDNIGHT EXPR ES$
(Alan Parker, 1978)

The film adaptation of the best-selling book by William Hayes, based on
his actual experience. MIDNIGHT EXPRESS is the dramatization of Hayes'
agony and unspeakable horror in a Turkish prison, his attempts to escape
and the degradation he had to suffer for a relatively minor offense
trying to smuggle a small quantity of hashish out of Turkey. A gut
wrenching, powerful film. Winner of several 1978 Academy Awards.
ANGELL HALL 7& 9 p.m. $1.50
Tomorrow: GRANDE ILLUSION

I

*Between media

By ANNE SHARP
Kudos are'in order for the All Media
Company. Using a blend of drama,
tage effects, live music, and audio-
visual projections, they have devised a
mirror, of sorts, held up to the lifestyles
of a certain common species of Ann Ar-
bor university liberal arts rat.
BETWEEN JOBS creates such . a.
realistic portrait of how some students
spend their time that it's frequently
almost as boring as the real thing.
Between Jobs recreates one evening
in the devil-may-care lives of several of
e afore-mentioned university rats.
You've seen them before; most of them
wear things like overalls and bell jeans
and leotards. Wandering in and out of
their li-ving room, rifling through
backpacks and couch cushions in sear-
ch of missing car keys, having
telephone conversations, complaining
about classes and girls and dope,
lighting cigarettes, and sucking for
dear life on a big orange bong to releive
~ 1ese tensions. It's so realistic, the
alogue and the movements of the ac-
tors as they lazily slouch around the set,
that one feels stranded in this make-
believe living room; as though the ac-
-tors, our hosts, are simply too boorish
to acknowledge our existence.
THE ONE thing that actually
separates this from any other Ann Ar-
bor student home is the live rock band
which is set up in between the sofa and
ving room, which the "rats" use in
eu of a stereo. Greg Mazure, who is
head honcho of the All Media Company
And the producer-author of this produc-
tion, is lead singer for the band, which
manages to kick out a tune every five or
teri minutes while the students scurry
about taking showers and inhaling hash
fumes. This blend of guileless dramatic
reality and intense music works like a
'charm, although neither medium
Teems to be directed toward making
uch of a statement one way or the
other.
The actors seem so at ease that they
go far in becoming palpable and en-
dearing. The main character, Zack

(Scott Winkler) is perhaps the most
uninteresting. His main interest in his
unrequieted passion for Rhonnie (Sue
John), a sexually unscrupulous
creature in violet satin pants and too
much eye makeup. When Rhonny goes
off for a drunken tumble with Zach's
slick-and-sleazy roommate, Zack
responds by doping himself into
hallucintogenic bliss. Dramatic ten-
sion in this play has a habit of losing it-
self in drug-induced calm and music
which consistently has nothing to do
with what's going on-well, it is only
background music.
AS YOU might have guessed, nothing
much happens, plot-wise , in this play.
There is one chummy interlude where
the actors abandon the stage and dance
in the aisles while Mazure and company
jam. The music is decent but rather un-
distinguished, except for All-Media's
unofficial theme song, a rabble-rouser
entitled "Sex, Drugs, and Rock and
Roll".
The audio-visual effects were sur-
prisingly weak, washed-out and at
times barely distinguishable, projected
onto a simple backdrop of taped-
together sheets of unidentifiable
white material. At one point during the
band's solo, a massive white bank of fog
unfurled itself from mid-stage and
began creeping ominously over the
seats, smelling thickly of Raid; one felt
like making a dash for the door.
Perhaps the fog was not just another
not very well thought out effect. For all
,I know, it might have symbolized all the
smoke that floated through the lungs of
the characters. But that is un-
necessary. The university rats who had
come to see the show Thursday night
were producing enough smoke from
surreptitiously lit pipes to put a haze in
the room. Who was it that said that life
mirrors art?

TONIGHT UP IN SMOKE TONIGHT
3 SHOWS: 7;00, 8:45 & 10:15-$1.50
I'll leave the dope jokes to the movie and just say that Cheech and Chong are
crazier when you see them on the screen than on records. Try not to miss them.
SUNDAY: SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS
MONDAY: DARK STAR
CINEMA GUILD AT OLD A& D

't

I

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