The first scene of “Godspell” was like something out of a personal version of the inferno, a lot of really angry religious people shoving signs about Jesus in my face. However, as the play progressed, it proved to be something far more heavenly. Put on by USF’s College Players, “Godspell” was a musical based on the Bible but set in San Francisco, giving the widely performed show a breath of fresh air.
The plot line itself was an interweaving of Bible allegories and the story of Jesus, played by a benevolent looking David Silpa, and his eventual betrayal by a trench-coat clad Judas, portrayed by Forest Neikirk.
David Silpa, a hippy look-a-like down to his tie-dye shirt and unkempt beard, was a remarkably good Jesus, constantly advocating for compassion and convincing even the angriest characters to lay down their offenses and forgive each other.
However, what sold the performance was Silpa’s unfailing effort to portray Jesus as a human being with internal conflicts and outward battles; the audience was completely silent as Jesus proclaimed with a cracking voice that every last one of his friends would deny him and ultimately abandon him when they were needed most.
Forest Neikirk gave a similarly unflinching portrait Judas, the apostle who supposedly betrayed Jesus for a mere thirty pieces of silver. Over the course of the play, Judas was transformed from a good guy apostle to a traitor, progressively growing slightly darker and bitterer towards Jesus.
Neikirk’s performance culminated with his mournfully kissing Jesus, an action which directly led to the death of the latter, and tying him to a chain-link fence in the shape of a crucifix. The startling use of Christ imagery, though it fit the play well, would have lacked the necessary impact had it been done by a less convincing actors. It was both Forest Neikrik’s portrayal as an almost pitiful Judas and David Silpa’s agonized Jesus that sent the show home with the audience.
Although “Godspell” was a musical, it ventured far beyond the Sunday school repertoire of “Jesus Loves Me” with catchy songs that had the audience grooving in their seats, keeping the pace lively and engaging. The musical selection was incredibly varied, swinging from a top-hat-and-cane number entitled “All for the Best” to the more choir-esque “Prepare Ye”, but rock solid in its performance due to an almost perfectly orchestrated cast of voices.
The dancing also complimented the music well; but there were several exceptionally noteworthy performances by Kelly Greer, whose fluid movements were a delight to watch. Greer gave the show an undeniable sex appeal, seducing the audience with shimmying hips and a pink feather boa.
College Player’s “Godspell” was an excellent reminder of exactly how talented USF is, showcasing the wide-ranging talents of more students than can be mentioned in a single article.
It suffices to say that if religion were taught through musicals as engrossing as “Godspell”, churches might very well be full on Sundays.
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