I was eager to see the show but felt really bad as I settled into my seat for the opening night of GODSPELL at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Pain was shooting through my legs, and my mind was overwhelmed after yet another day of wrangling with difficult business decisions. But by the time I left the theatre I genuinely felt uplifted and renewed by the youthful and fresh energy and the heartfelt message of hope in Jesus that poured out of this production.
The cast could have, and maybe should have, been cast older; except for two token adults most of the cast seemed straight out of high school or college. Their voices were fantastic in the way singers on American Idol are, but as soon as they formed the Tower of Babel as 9 to 5 city workers dressed in black and grey, I thought what do these kids know about how hard the workplace is? Later during the heavier scenes regarding Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion I thought, what do these kids know about loss? Though one thing this young cast did have was talent – and plenty of it.
Brian Bohr played the role of Jesus. I was at first shocked and taken aback by a Jesus who resembled a 22 year old, baby-faced, California surfer kid wearing a sky blue preppy polo shirt. But Bohr’s rich, smooth voice and determined lightheartedness eventually won me over. Although I was surprised by Bohr's youthful appearance and super clean cut costume and looks, I grew to enjoy his interpretation of the role because it reflected on just how very strong and happy Jesus must have been during his early ministry before he was attacked and weighed down with betrayal.
Samantha Pauly had the most dynamic voice of the women and did a great job with the humor and tone of “Turn Back O Man”. At the same time, Devin DeSantis who had more of the hippy, wildman look I would have expected from Jesus, also had a great rich voice and made a very sympathetic Judas. The numbers were exciting and colorful, especially “O Bless the Lord My Soul” where golden hula hoops were incorporated into the dance choreography and “Light of the World” that really had the audience toe tapping and nodding their heads to the beat.
As always I thoroughly enjoyed the use of the intimate space at The Marriott Theatre and all of the colorful ways the entire theatre was decorated with multicolored plastic drinking cups sticking out of fence walls like a rainbow. I noticed that most of the audience seemed to feel the same way, as more people were laughing and chatting after the show rather than stretching and yawning on a weeknight and rushing to get home.
Overall this is a great production that is perfectly suited for everyone. Even the crucifixion scene was exceptionally light and non-violent as Jesus is tied up and crucified with blue and white silks suspended from the ceiling. I especially recommend this as a children’s theatre production for parents who want to take their children to an adult theatre piece with a great message about Jesus and the Gospel of John and Luke that will be very clean and cheerful all the way through.
GODSPELL is playing at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire though August 10th. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.marriotttheatre.com.
If you have any fondness for tales of the golden era of Hollywood, and in particular the work of the beloved movie star comedian, Jack Lemmon, you will thoroughly enjoy this moving and entertaining one man show starring Jack’s son, Chris Lemmon.
Writer and director, Hershey Felder had a similar solid hit last year with "The Pianist of Willesden Lane” in which a daughter tells the story of her mother surviving the Holocaust. Jack Lemmon Returns script was originally based on a memoir by Chris Lemmon titled, A Twist of Lemmon. Felder took the book, added some wonderful music and had Chris do the entire piece, not as himself- but as Jack, which makes this piece especially unique and enjoyable. All of the monologues flow beautifully into each other along with the music and never before seen photographs projected above the stage to create a touching, and funny progression that is very polished and theatrically satisfying.
There is no hash slinging ala “Mommie Dearest”, but Chris acknowledges Jack’s two decade long struggle with alcohol addiction. A telling moment about Jack’s narcissism is when “Jack” describes the thrill of winning his first Oscar for Mister Roberts and realizing after a few hours of celebration that he had literally left his wife behind, sitting all alone in the auditorium, which signaled the end of his marriage to Chris’s mother and actress, Cynthia Stone.
Lemmon has wonderful stage presence, as himself and as his dad, Jack. I was unaware that both he and his father were such gifted pianists. Jack introduced Chris to music, who later earned a degree in classical piano and composition. Chris recalls how after his parents divorced, while he was only two, Jack would make time to visit him almost everyday at his beach side home to play piano together. Chris says that although his new stepmother did not really welcome his presence, Jack was still “a little bit in love with his mother” and he remained his father’s beloved “hotshot” son without interruption.
The one piece of video in the show was of French Actor/Director and Mime Jean-Louis Barrault's performance in the silent film Children of Paradise, which Jack Lemmon studied intensively. It shows how ahead of his time Jean-Louis Barrault’s expressive hand gestures were - like a series of poetically powerful hand mudras, which were able to make people laugh and cry at the same time.
Chris does an amazing job of recreating young Jack’s many complicated trademark mannerisms, comical stuttering and gracefully manic hand gestures. He also does some fantastic impersonations of the friends in Jack’s start studded life like James Cagney, Billy Wilder, Jerry Lewis, Gregory Peck and even Marilyn Monroe.
Chris Lemmon grew up near Marilyn Monroe and relates a great story of how he snuck into her yard once while she was surrounded by secret servicemen during a tryst with JFK. The armed men tried to remove him but Marilyn stopped them and said “No! That’s Jack Lemmon’s son! “
The ninety minutes flowed so quickly and intensely that I wanted it to go on longer and pack in even more star recollections. Chris said afterwards that he and Felder had a rough time cutting the piece down to this exact running time especially when it came to cutting a section about Jack’s great friendship with actress Shirley Maclaine. He further explained that an intermission or even three extra minutes could stop the pace of this one man show in its tracks.
There is a real market for this special piece. After the show I felt like I had experienced a visit with real Hollywood royalty in both Jack and Chris and wanted to see Jack Lemmon’s movies again, and read Chris Lemmon’s biography with this new perspective.
At 59 Chris Lemmon is the perfect age to play his father as a young man and into old age when Jack died of cancer at the age of 76.
Chris’s stage version of his beloved father is more than an impersonation. Because of Chris’s skill and because Chris Lemmon is “blood”, his remarkable performance borders on actually “channeling” his late father’s huge spirit. It is truly exciting and haunting to watch. At times I felt I was actually witnessing Jack Lemmon joyfully “stepping into” his son’s face and body. After congratulating Chris and meeting his lovely wife and daughters at the end of the night, we hugged goodbye and I told him how much I loved his dad. I could have sworn I saw Jack Lemmon himself with his broad smile winking at me over Chris’s shoulder.
Hershey Felder said after the show that they brought “ Jack Lemmon Returns” to Chicago first because of all the cities in the U.S., Chicago is the only city that truly welcomes new theatre and longs for it’s success, instead of sitting arms crossed in judgment.
Do not miss your chance to see this remarkable and beautifully written and directed piece of theatre while it is running here at The Royal George Theatre, which is being performed through June 8th. Visit http://www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com/ for more info.