In 2005, 13 year Near West Theatre veteran, Kelcie Nicole Dugger was in a production of Godspell at Near West Theatre. So it seemed a perfect time for Dugger to helm the current production in the glorious new building in Gordon Square Arts District, and give her spin on the classic musical.There is a bit of history with this show, because it was the first show ever produced by Near West Theatre in 1978. Two productions followed in 1987 and 1994, but what is fascinating about the production staff for this production, is that Assistant Director Anthony Williams, Assistant Musical Director Scott Pyle, and Dugger herself were all children in the 2005 production.That production enabled Dugger to personally identify what was involved in building a community, while embracing diversity.

Godspell is based on the ancient writings of Matthew, which examine the life and teachings of Jesus.The original production was brought to the world stage by John-Michael Tebelak in the early 1970’s.These inspiring stories of love, goodwill and compassion will come vividly to life through an eclectic blend of songs, ranging in style from pop to vaudeville, put forth by a passionate troupe of 9 to 15 year-olds!

This is a grand ensemble of 40 plus young people working hard on the stage and off to bring this musical to life. The role of Jesus is certainly pivotal in the show, and the casting of Felix Albino could not have been better. Albino has an immediate connection with the audience, offering a warm and gentle soul, but also adept at showing his stern warnings of veering off the path. His voice is majestic in the role, and certainly indicative of a young man finding his voice, literally, in the world of musical theatre. His rendition of ‘Beautiful City’ is perfection.

The first appearance of Judas is dramatic and cool as heck. This is accomplished by a fierce costume provided by Costume Designer Jen Ryan, and the lovely actress Jocelyn Perkins herself. Perkins presence is formidable and she has the acting chops and voice to back up her personae. Her rendition of ‘On the Willows’ is haunting and beautiful. One of the major standouts in this production is one of the youngest and tiniest in the show. Calista Zajac is absolutely amazing with her song ‘All Good Gifts’. You would never expect the voice that she creates. It reminds me of America’s Got Talent, when someone unexpectedly wows the judges, and results in a Golden Buzzer to the finals. This would be that performance.

Each song is performed with beautiful harmony and message. Corrine Howery and Christian Thomas bring joy and hope to ‘Day by Day’. Brett Nickolette and Abby Golden bring freshness and originality to ‘Learn your Lessons Well”.Morgan Williams injects grand energy and a high note for days in ‘Bless the Lord’. Zoe Hess adds her musical zest, along with Golden and Nickolette, to ‘Light of the World’. Angellise Irizarry brings as much sass as her parents would allow to ‘Turn Back, O Man’, having raucous fun with the bawdy tune. Ally Yellets adds her formidable talents to lead ‘By My Side’. Beck Saine kicks some theatre butt with his energetic rendition of ‘We Beseech Thee’, firing on all cylinders.

This is a harmonious ensemble that puts forth enough effort and zeal to inspire climate change. Dugger, with her production and technical crew, have done a wonderful job highlighting these young artists that leap and bound on this impressive stage.

Music Director – Matthew Dolan, Choreographer – Josh Landis, Set and Props Designer – Douglas Puskas, Technical Director Josh Padgett, Asst Tech Dir/Video Designer – Perren Hedderson, Stage Manager – Jeannie Clarkson, Asst Stage Manager – Eric Reising, Costume Designer Jen Ryan, Lighting Designer Rob Wachala, Sound Designer – Josh Caraballo, Scenic Artist – Jenny Hitmar Shankland

Dugger hopes “that this production inspires us to have more faith in obtaining unity amidst tremendous turmoil. If we can find a common ground, we can begin to heal”.

In my book, success is word of mouth. Alas, the last weekend of this show is Sold Out. That speaks for itself.

Kevin Kelly – –