Broadway’s future headliners display the triple-threat gifts that will one day be taking them to the Great White Way in Godspell, the latest in a series of Grade-A productions to spotlight the rising stars of Cal State Fullerton’s elite Musical Theater BFA program.


Now for those of you out there who may have received a polite “No, thank you” in response to an invitation to review your production of Godspell, no, I haven’t suddenly become a Godspell fan. I still find this compilation of Parables Jesus Told rather too Sunday School Cute for my theatrical tastes, despite some terrific tunes by Stephen Schwartz circa The Early Years.

That being said, I absolutely loved CSUF’s latest production of the 1971 off-Broadway hit, one which like those before it (2010’s Violet and last year’s I Love You Because) matches the best that professional 99-Seat Plan theater has to offer.

Mark Bartlett, Casey Canino, Audrey Curd, Tim Fitzsimons, Abby Hankins, William Hoshida, Edgar Lopez, Laurel Petti, Kevin Rose, Salisha Thomas, Amy Trgovac, and Ricky Wagner may be unknown today, but just give them time. With CSUF graduating a mere 10 Musical Theater BFA students per year, those who make the final cut are likely to be acing that final call-back too when Broadway shows, National Tours, and major regional theaters are casting their productions in the years to come.

As for Godspell, though it may rank high on my list of Not-So-Favorite Musicals, inspired direction and choreography by Jim Tauli and Craig Tyrl “in full collaboration with the company of Godspell” make for two acts of musical theater magic.

“Tower Of Babble” has the entire cast sporting trench coats and sunglasses as they sing (in ten-part counterpoint!) the words of Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Marianne Williamson, and a half a dozen other philosophers, a feat of musical legerdemain almost worth the price of admission.

The arrival of John The Baptist (Bartlett) with his musical exhortation to “Prepare Ye” (the way of the Lord), has our band of ten doffing their coats and shades to reveal the kind of fanciful, rainbow-colored costumes Godspell has been famous for over the last forty years.

Rose, the brilliant young Scenie-winning star of I Love You Because and CSUF’s recent The Wedding Singer, then enters in white boxers and nothing else, the better to “Save The People” as none other than Jesus himself—and the fun begins.


Over the next two hours or so, Tauli, Tyrl, and company find ever more inventive ways to tell those oft-told parables you heard your Sunday School teacher tell when you were a tiny tot. A game of audience-participation charades, a ventriloquist-and-dummy act, sock puppets that are quite literally socks, a bit of magic, some vaudeville soft-shoe, gospel and rap, and even a moment of Rockettes-ready high kicks are just some of the storytelling techniques directors and cast have come up with in this highly imaginative Godspell.

Each and every company member is onstage pretty much throughout, and each gets his or her center-stage moment to shine.

Bartlett is a dynamic stage presence as both John The Baptist and Judas, whether introducing Jesus’ impending arrival or doing a vaudeville-style duet with Rose. The delightful Canino gets to play it cute-and-dumb a la Goldie Hawn, backing up angelic blonde charmer Curd in “By My Side.” Fitzsimmons demonstrates rock star appeal in “Beautiful City,” a song that starts of Act Two with a surprise bang. Hankins is a sultry, boa-sporting treat as she belts out “Turn Back O Man.” Hoshida sings “On The Willows” with heartbreaking purity, backed by Canino and Curd. A perky, peppy Lopez sings the bouncy “We Beseech Thee,” the enchanting Petti gets the show’s most famous song, “Day By Day,” and Thomas shows off soulful power pipes with “O’ Bless The Lord My Soul.” “Learn Your Lesson Well” showcases Trgovak’s comedic-vocal talents, while “All Good Gifts” proves a just-right vehicle for the always engaging Wagner. Finally there’s Rose’s charismatic star turn as Jesus, a role that allows the dazzling triple-threat to run the gamut from slapstick comedian to tragic hero, whether selling a gospel tune like a revival preacher or facing his own violent death in the show’s powerfully staged eleventh hour darkening.


Musical director Diane King Vann gets her cast harmonizing quite gorgeously as Anthony Miller’s lighting ups the emotions, whether bright and cheery or starkly dramatic. Scenic design-wise, this Godspell does quite nicely indeed with a few metallic benches and a suitcase rack.

Haylie Lovett is stage manager and W. Ryan Creasy sound coordinator.

Most school productions end up supported largely by friends and relatives. CSUF’s plays and musicals deserve a much wider audience. Like its predecessors, Godspell merits comparison with the best of professional Orange County theater—with the added advantage that you’ll be able to say you saw these future stars at the very start of their careers.

CSUF Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.

–Steven Stanley
March 15, 2012

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