REVIEW: Heartwood’s Godspell Dazzles!

(Review by David Treadwell for the New Maine Times)

“There’s lots of energy in the house,” notes Griff Braley, Director of Heartwood Regional Theater, during his opening-night introduction of Godspell, now playing at the Parker B. Poe Theater at Lincoln Academy.

“Energy!” That’s the best word to capture Heartwood’s rousing spiritual songfest performed with amazing professionalism by Heartwood’s youth ensemble.

Godspell, an audience favorite since opening off-Broadway in 1971, offers everything a musical aficionado could want: memorable songs, lively dancing and enduring lessons. In this two-hour performance, which sped by in a flash, the Godspell cast conveyed the full range of human emotions (love, joy, anger, greed, humor, sorrow).

I came to opening night a tad skeptical that such a young cast could do full justice to Godspell. Not to worry. They blew me away. And the enthusiastic audience reaction during and after the show confirms that I wasn’t alone.

To be sure, several individual performers stood out. Nate Friant was the perfect Jesus – loving, firm, wise, kind. Abbey Hutchins, a Heartwood regular, demonstrated her exquisite vocal talent throughout. Rowan Carroll-Christopher gave a stunningly sultry performance of Turn Back Your Man. Mena Han-Lalime led a captivating By My Side. Braeden Waddell, who played John and Judas with surprising force, and Ed Frankonis, who played a little bit of everything with Jim Carrey-like flexibility, demonstrated real theatrical talent.

That said, the entire ensemble brought off the production with confidence and verve. (Keep your eye on Eloise Hart Kelly, she of the red beret and expressive animation.) These young actors worked – no played is a better word – well together from scene to scene and song to song, ever in the moment, never losing the audience.

Other elements iced the cake. The musicians, led by keyboard maestro Sean Fleming, provided a fine backdrop not just musically but visually as you could see them behind the black curtain. The students, themselves, created the spot-on costuming and engaging choreography. Student Lian Harrington did very well as Light Board Operator and student Ben Chute played a masterful guitar. Vocal Coach Beth Preston and Tech Director Tish Munson also deserve praise.

And then there’s Griff Braley, the wizard of Heartwood. Time after time, show after show, Griff somehow manages to assemble the right talent for the right production in just the right way. He knows how to bring out the best in actors, especially young actors. Incidentally, Griff, himself, expressed amazement after the show about how well these young people had performed.

So….treat yourself to Godspell. Whether you’ve seen it before or not, you will be very glad you did.

Final performances take place at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25-27, 3 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Parker Poe Theater at Lincoln Academy. For reservations, call 563-1373 or email boxoffice@heartwoodtheater.org. For further info and video clips go to www.heartwoodtheater.org.

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