Saturday, March 6, 2004

Country Day's 'Godspell': Fast-paced and energetic

High School Theater

The life and teachings of Jesus have been told many times and many ways, far removed from life in the 21st century. But with a funk guitar, a charismatic Christ, and Dr. Evil, Cincinnati Country Day's recent production of Godspell updated the stories of scripture.

Godspell brings the parables and lives of Jesus and his apostles into this century, using pop-culture references and rock music. The show doesn't have a traditional plot revolving around a few key characters, but the focus is on the ensemble.

Each of the 34 performers had a moment to become a part of the action on stage.

For example, Brian Costello created several small but hilarious characters - like a pompous judge - before rejoining the company. The role of Jesus was performed by Ben Tanzer, who displayed an explosive energy that won the audience's laughter and tears. His voice rang out in "God Save the People" as he first started to teach his company of followers.

The ensemble quoted cell phone commercials, West Side Story and Rocky to update the parables. Goofy accents, comic pratfalls and exaggerated facial expressions were executed with hilarious results.

Jeff Lynch, a member of the ensemble who also sang "Light of the World," created over-the-top characters that buzzed with comic energy. Every song featured strong vocals from the lead singers and the harmonizing company. "By My Side," sung by Rebecca and Lizzie Birckhead, was haunting and powerful as the show moved from its comedic plotline to the tragic re-enactment of the passion.

"Day by Day" and "All for the Best" featured dynamic dances that made full use of the stage.

Matt Borths, St. Xavier High School

Ben Tanzer offered an impressive portrayal of Jesus, creating a communion with his audience through a mixture of humor and empathy. His vocal talent was wide, applying a proper cheerfulness in "All for the Best," yet also having its poignant side in the finale.

Rick Coffey, St. Xavier High School

Sisters Rebecca and Lizzie Birckhead sang a moving duet, "By My Side." Coming near the height of emotional activity in the musical, right before the Last Supper, the duet highlighted their rich voices. Another excellent soloist was Andrew Cone who gave a poignant, stirring rendition of "All Good Gifts."

Kate Hattemer, Walnut Hills High School

Sally Dwyer's talented and uninhibited interaction with both the audience and Jesus in "Turn Back O Man" enlivened the stage with a sexy, raunchy sort of feel, while her vocals rang strong.

Laura McOsker, Loveland High School

The company surprised the audience with a variety of talents. Not only could players dance and sing, but some played instruments. Katie French played guitar, T.J. Smithshared his talent for the cello, and Emma Mack played the flute.

Morgan Huseman, Highlands High School

The Greater Cincinnati chapter of Cappies, or Critics and Awards Program, is in its third season, with students writing reviews of other high schools' productions. Today, Cincinnati Country Day's Godspell. For more information and show schedules, see

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