There is something so special in all things NEW. We spend our lives operating under assumptions and paradigms that have stuck with us for years. Those old paradigms can be about things as minor as our morning shower routine or as major as our religious beliefs and practices. They give us comfort, but they can also rot, transforming from a useful structure into an obstacle that keeps us from moving forward with our physical, mental, and spiritual lives.
But we’ve all had that experience of newness. Perhaps it was a new child that completely changed our lives, knocked the senses out of us, but resulted in a completely revised and healthier view of life. Perhaps it was a new job, one that forced us to think and act in a new way. For many of us, it was a new religion. We have all had that time where we were so excited about all the amazing things we were learning about the Goddess, about the Aesir, about whatever pantheon we attach to that we felt charged with excitement to get out and share it with the world. The Pagan community often refers to this as the “Fluffy Bunny” stage- a stage where everything about the world is rainbows and light and unicorns, and all you want to do is share those rainbows with the entire world.
Godspell, the now classic musical by Wicked creator Stephen Schwartz, opened this weekend at Mysterium Theater. It is an energetic, beautiful, and thoughtful portrayal of the Fluffy Bunny stage of Christianity. It really doesn’t matter what your religion is, anyone with a heart can connect with the love, excitement, and sheer ecstasy that comes from this musical as it plays and experiments with the art of newness, the art of fluffiness. The apostles of Godspell are just as supercharged about their messiah as the stereotypical 16 year old Gothic chick is about her first reading of Scott Cunningham, and this production surrounds us with that amazing excitement that comes with freshness.
Mysterium’s production emphasizes the new. The show is based on the Gospel of Matthew, and it features the reactions and development of the apostles as they learn a completely new way of life from their teacher, Jesus. They begin as a useless rabble, but they coalesce into a unified, energized new faith under their new rabbi. This show is supremely adaptable, and Mysterium has added everything from Jesus rapping to multiple renditions of “Gangham Style” to Toy Story references to update the piece and give it a flair of modernity and relevancy.
Torran Kitts leads the performance. His Jesus is intentionally young and innocent, and just a bit goofy. While Kitts joins the chorus for most of the numbers, his leadership is quite clear from the very beginning. The Jesus he present is young but powerful, and he radiates a charisma that helps us really believe that these societal outcasts would truly choose to follow him. This perfect love and perfect trust he honestly establishes with his followers makes his eventual crucifixion- the end of the Fluffy Bunny stage- all the more painful.
Brian Lofting brings a bit of energy and force as both John the Baptist and Judas. While his early proclamation demanding us to “Prepare Ye” for the coming of the Lord is a bit underwhelming, his strength improves as the story moves on. By the time we see him betray his good friend, with that friend’s blessing, we have fallen in love with him as a true believer and a compassionate, realistic portrayal of our own fears and earthly concerns. Lofting’s voice isn’t much better than the rest of the cast; his dancing is average, and you can see him sweat throughout the show, but that just seems to add to the grit of the story as it unfolds.
The rest of the cast absolutely glorifies in that fluffy feeling of newnesss and love. Those of us in the audience get this amazing understanding of the thrill and joy that the original apostles felt as they lived with and learned from this crazy young upstart who challenged the codified interpretations of the Law. Each lesson is accepted with love and respect, but each apostle gets the chance to broadcast their own power. The entire chorus opens the doorway to the inspirational love and light that the apostles must have felt as they realized the transformational lessons that their teacher was giving them. Particularly memorable are Kayla Cavaness’ soprano strength, Momoko Sugai’s second act intro, and Luis Ceja’s inspiring rendition of “We Beseech Thee.”
Director Rovin Jay and choreographer Sonya Lane’t Randall capitalize on Godspell’s openness to adaptation. Together, they meld classical elements like John the Baptist’s iconic “Prepare ye the Way of the Lord” number with more modern dance styles and parable interpretations that ride the wave of this show’s improvisational heart. The love that shines through from each number, regardless of the style of choreography, reminds us yet again of the joy that came from each of us as we learned a new religious point of view and broke away from old structures into a fresh new way of thinking, acting, and believing.
That freshness is exactly what this production emphasizes. All of us have had that joyous experience where we realized exactly where our spiritual path was leading us. It reminds us of what it was like to be fluffy bunnies, and taps into the spiritual joy that must have been felt by the early Christian bunnies. At some point we all have to deal with our own crucifixions that force us to see the dark side or our faiths, but this Godspell reminds us that- before all of that pain- we all danced happily in the “Beautiful City.” We have a lot to learn from that city, from that freshness, from that love.