If there’s any theater that lends itself particularly to “Godspell,” it’s the ferny outdoor amphitheater of the Kitsap Forest Theater. The 1970 off-Broadway musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak is, basically, the story of Jesus told directly through the gospels (hence the title) of Matthew and Luke. And if you remember, Jesus wasn’t an indoor guy. He worked outdoors, preached outdoors, recruited outdoors (his first disciples were fishermen), spent a lot of time on the road and, finally, was betrayed and crucified outdoors. His resurrection was witnessed in a garden.
So watching the cast of the Mountaineers Players (resident company since 1923) play out the gospel parables and action on the Forest Theater’s dirt stage, surrounded by trees and sitting yourself on hard ground as the 33 A.D. audience would have been does wonders for the setting.
And this production has other good points: The playground scene where Jesus teaches his goofy, childlike followers has the right mix of innocence and graffiti, though the costumes can’t decide between ‘70s and ‘80s. The cast has some good singers, like Marlene Velius (“By My Side”), JiSun Lee (“Day by Day”) and Nathaniel Jones (“All Good Gifts.”) As Jesus, Daniel Kluth is a great combination of calm and intense, and not above a good hamming up.
But unfortunately there are a few too many disappointments to bring this show off completely. Sound system adjustments are sorely needed to mike up the chorus more (they’re inaudible) over the rockin’ four-piece band. This would also make sense of the philosophy-babble prologue, which is difficult even when loud enough. Some of the parables are acted out engagingly – the Good Samaritan as a puppet show, Lazarus and the Rich Man with some hilariously cheesy angels and demons – but some are just strange, like an out-of-tune oompah backup or a hip-hop beat. And the pratfalls and overacting are way too huge, turning the whole scenario into a wacky Seussian planet where people speak like the St. James Bible and act like the Cat in the Hat.
Yet some gags are truly funny, like the wealthy man who stores up Pop Tarts and Red Vines or Jesus’ pithy maxims read as Chinese fortune cookies, and the cast (directed by Peggy Whelan) moves through the darker second act with heartfelt performances that overcome what have to be the most awkward lines in all of musical history (“Oh God, I’m dead,” etc.)
Forest Theater shows aren’t highly professional, but then, neither were Jesus’ disciples. They, like the Players, were just folks who really believed in what they were doing, and when you catch that passion amid the ferns and dogwoods, it’s a good feeling.
“Godspell” plays at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 22. $15/$10/free for under-six. Kitsap Forest Theater, 3000 Seabeck Hwy, Bremerton. 206-542-7815, www.foresttheater.com