By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Stage Door Players production of “Godspell” sparkles in every way. The musical only runs through June 8, so I would not delay in getting tickets, because the intimate theatre is sure to sure to sell out.

John-Michael Tebelak’s and Stephen Schwartz’ playful and moving retelling of the Gospel of Matthew (highlights) has lost none of its charm and power; “Godspell” gives an audience permission to become children, or at least explore its childlike side.

But this magic doesn’t happen automatically. Brian Clowdus directs with great panache and inventiveness; and the cast, led by Jeremiah Parker Hobbs as Jesus, responds by showing us love and joy and celebrating the “city of man” that we can be.

Bubba Carr’s unobtrusive and graceful choreography keeps the show moving and makes it all look so easy. Clowdus and Carr collaborated last summer in Serenbe Playhouse’s memorable outdoor production of “Hair”; they evidently work very well together.

Chuck Welcome’s set is simple but quite magical; it perfectly illustrates the program notes for time and place: “A desolate amusement park left abandoned of hope and faith.”

It does not stay that way for long. Once the actors start to enter, the desolation vanishes, and what seemed carelessly strewn pieces of trash on the floor suddenly take on meaning; a carousel surrounded by woods works perfectly as a place for music director Nick Silvestri’s fine musicians to perch.

Ah, the actors. With the exception of Mr. Hobbs’ Jesus and Dan Ford’s Judas, the actors’ characters use their own first names, not the name of well known disciples. It’s a pleasure to tell you their real names, and that they are sensational: Tierra Porter, Daniel Pino, Daniel Burns, Caitlin Smith, Courtney Godwin, Robert Mitchel Owenby, Laura Floyd, and Randi Garza. Almost all of them are making their debuts at Stage Door (not their debuts as actors). They sing, act, dance, and they have no inhibition in projecting what I shall call radical silliness: fun-loving metaphysics. They are young adults, yet they have a wonderful childlike sense of wonder, without which “Godspell” doesn’t really work.

They are costumed with delight and imagination by Abby Parker.

“Godspell” does not in any way proselytize, nor does it espouse any religious faith. It does use the parables of Jesus to demonstrate various metaphysical truths, such as loving one’s neighbor, having purity of heart, and the futility of worrying about tomorrow.

There are beautiful moments such as Jeremiah Parker Hobbs’ rendition of “Beautiful City,” sung very softly as he gently “anoints” his followers. You probably know some of the songs: “Day by Day,” “Prepare Ye,” “All Good Gifts,” “Turn Back, O Man,” “We Beseech Thee,” and “Save the People.”

“Godspell” has worked for audiences since it began life in 1970 as Tebelak’s master’s thesis, progressed to off-Broadway, film, and Broadway. Happily, this production sidesteps the sanctimonious solemnity that can sometimes creep into the second act; after all, the play is in part dealing with Jesus’ death. I must also say that this cast knows how to truly listen to one another; they’re alive and concentrating—therefore magnetic.

This is the best “Godspell” I’ve ever seen. Director Clowdus and his company are masterful in their art and joyful in spirit. It’s a trip; see it.

For tickets and information, visit stagedoorplayers.net.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.