GodspellWhile the Gospel based on Matthew and Luke’s writings in the New Testament has been around for centuries, and the musical “Godspell” has been around a while as well (since 1971), the show is still timely. Especially in the production now onstage at the Contemporary Theatre of Dallas.

Their updated version of “Godspell” brings to vivid life the old parables Jesus used to teach his disciples. With music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, a book by John-Michael Tebelak, innovative directing by B. J. Cleveland and some very creative costumes by Lyle Huchton, “Godspell” seems quite contemporary.

It helps to have a terrific cast, which “Godspell” definitely has, starting with versatile actor Max Swarner as Jesus.  As an example of his versatility, Max was most recently seen as the slick con man/hustler in “Catch Me If You Can” at Uptown Theatre. Max_Swarner_144043

Others in the talented ensemble include Whitney Coulter, Dustin Curry, Amber Flores, Caitlyn Galloway, Jonathan Garcia, Gerard Lucero, Noelle Mason, Sheridan Monroe, Sara Shelby-Martin, and Kim Borge Swarner.  Contemporary’s “Godspell” is perfectly suited to the intimate space that was once home to a church.

The musical is filled with fun choreography that includes dancing up and down the aisles as well as  onstage.  Their colorful costumes depict the Disciples as present-day school girls, construction workers, waitresses, and other professions.  “Godspell” also boasts some really clever lyrics and dialogue.

It’s been several years since I last saw this musical, so it’s not clear whether some of the language should be attributed to Tebelak or more likely to Mr. Cleveland, the Dallas director. Obviously using Donald Trump as the model for the Rich Man wasn’t in the 1971 script—and certainly not in the Gospels either.  There are some hilarious ad libs sprinkled throughout the show that keep the audience laughing even when the parables end with someone being cast into Hell fire and damnation.

Kudos also should go to Robin Binford for the unique set design and to Lynn Mauildin and Rebekka Koepke for properties design, where ladders, planks and pails have multiple and unusual uses in the hands of the Disciples.

With virtuoso musical director Scott Eckert on keyboards, Steve Begnoche (drums/percussion), Dennis Langevin (guitar) and Rick Norman (bass) in the band, “Godspell” is as much fun to listen to as it is to watch.  With a variety of musical numbers ranging from bouncy to rap to the poignant “Day by Day,”  this score has always been a big favorite with Broadway fans.

If you’re tired of all the usual holiday fare like “The Nutcracker,” “A Christmas Carol,” or “Rudolph,” and would like to see something fresh and different, Contemporary Theatre’s “Godspell” is a great production of an old favorite.  Because in their hands, it doesn’t seem old at all!Samaratini

To add to the fun of the evening, Contemporary Theatre’s bar is open before and after the show, and during intermission, serving a special drink themed to “Godspell,” the Samaritini.  The lemon flavored vodka martini proved very popular with theatre patrons the night we attended.

“Godspell” runs through December 6, presented by Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, 5601 Sears Street.  Tickets are available through the box office by calling 214-828-0094.