I can’t quite account for the fascination certain Jews (including me) have with the Greek Bible (a/k/a the New Testament) but I’m grateful that it’s shared by Stephen Schwartz because its legacy is Godspell, now receiving a glorious production at the Marriott Theatre. Director-choreographer Matt Raftery strikes just the right balance between updating this quintessentially 1970s Flower Child musical and leaving it in its original period. He also doesn’t hesitate to deploy his 10-person cast in wildly inventive, not to say utterly over-the-top, production numbers featuring every move and prop conceivable, up to and including gold Hula Hoops. Brian Bohr makes a fine not-too-fey Rabbi Joshua (a/k/a Jesus), and Devin DeSantis is suitably tortured as Judas. Finally, music director Ryan T. Nelson allows the cast to use their considerable individual and collective voices, resulting in a gorgeous sound which contrasts favorably with the original cast album, on which shaky or off-key singing gets pride of place as representing authenticity. It was a surprise to see empty seats at this spectacular show, but it may be that the Jews who are such stalwart patrons of most theaters are avoiding Godspell on doctrinal grounds. Don’t make that mistake: see this rousing show before it closes August 10.
The New Colony specializes in world premieres devised by its company, and its new one—Orville and Wilbur Did It!—is a particularly successful example of the genre. Despite the name, this is distinctly NOT a children’s show; it’s a contemporary adult comedy about a troupe of actors doing a children’s show on a seemingly endless tour of the nation’s grammar schools. As they fight, f**k and fumble their lines, we find ourselves actually caring about this collection of B- or C-list performers. The songs (by playwright David Zellnik and Eric Svejcaror) for the eponymoous show are both funny and tuneful, and the company does a great job of demonstrating the strained quality of most performances for kids. Director Andrew Hobgood could give lessons in comic pacing, and in a strong ensemble the work of Joey Romaine (in a fuzzy blue bird suit that sets off his wild red hair) and Josh Odor (playing the most desperate and least sober of the gang) stands out. Through July 20 at the Signal Ensemble space on Berenice in North Center; a perfect confection for a summer night.
Author-director Kestutis Nakas, who also stars in The Golf Ball, is right that Anton Chekhov is about ready for some form of updating: a century-plus after he wrote his plays, it may be possible to begin treating him like Shakespeare, with pieces presented out of original period and original location. Unfortunately, Nakas’s adaptation of Seagull is not the modern treatment we’ve been waiting for. This inaugural production of The Bridge, a new theatre in Bridgeport, is a disaster from first to last. The text renders Chekhov’s subtle use of repetition and solipsistic monologues as a simple bore, like being trapped at a party with a bunch of recent but unsuccessful analysands, and the company—consisting mostly of Nakas’s students at Roosevelt’s Chicago College of Performing Arts—is not skilled enough to rise above it. A truly unfortunate debut.