Godspell, Phoenix Ascending Theatre. This musical can't really surprise us. Even in this innovative Phoenix Ascending version--which doesn't name John-Michael Tebelak, who conceived the show and wrote the book in 1971, in the program and touts "new lyrics" by Stephen Schwartz--the stories are the same and (spoiler alert for those raised in a bubble) Jesus dies at the end. But Stephen R. Roath's production does present the familiar parables with true verve, and the performers belt out the songs with enthusiasm.
Here the characters are meant to be "lost and forgotten souls" on Lower Wacker. Throwing themselves into the storytelling, the performers carry off everything from charades and puppetry to the melodrama of a mock silent movie with versatility and comic flair. Their broad acting doesn't always work, however, especially when they're supposed to express real emotion. This problem is particularly evident in the performances of James Treacy and Ghoun "Max" Chung as Jesus and Judas, the characters most often called on to react with pain, guilt, or disappointment. The ensemble's inability to give sorrow any depth slows the show's momentum in the second act, which doesn't come up to the wit of the first.
This ensemble really pulls off the high-voltage numbers, however: "Day by Day," "All for the Best," and "We Beseech Thee." Walter Thon's ambitious choreography (considering the size of the stage) is vibrant, while the cast seems to brim with a positive energy.