By Rich Rosentreter
There was dancing, singing, joy, sorrow, tears and then tears of joy. Indeed, there were emotions galore running the entire spectrum over the weekend during the Tupper Lake Middle High School’s Red & Black Players performance of Godspell.
The musical concluded on Sunday with a matinee performance that also marked the final appearance of several seniors on the cast, and the Free Press was on hand for the riveting show put on by the local talent.
Godspell was originally composed by Stephen Schwartz with the words by John-Michael Tebelak, and first opened off Broadway in 1971. It has become a classic ever since, and the Red & Black players, under the stage direction of George Cordes, musical direction of Liz Cordes and choreography of Emily Brown, were able to successful meet the challenge of producing the show.
The structure of the musical was composed of a series of parables from the Bible and featured a variety of modern music set primarily to lyrics from traditional hymns, with the scene of Christ’s crucifixion performed, making the challenge for the local performers a great one. But the audience certainly enjoyed the show as demonstrated by its loud applause.
Liz Cordes praised the cast after the show.
“What can we say about the overall performance!” she said. “The cast and crew fully embraced the spirit of this show and we couldn't be prouder of their performances!”
One might think by the name and nature of the musical, it would be strictly a religious-type of production, but it was far more. The play involved plenty of song, with solos so each cast member had his or her moment to shine. And shine they did.
Godspell got under way with a clever entrance by Noah Cordes as John the Baptist who walked down the main aisle past the audience singing the introductory song “Prepare Ye.”
The next key arrival was the entry of Dorran Boucher as Jesus who performed “Save the People” as he went one-by-one to greet each character in the cast, all of whom remained on the stage through the entire show. This song would set the tone for many of the songs as one character had an opportunity to show off their talent with a solo, but then the cast would join in to add to the overall excellence of each song.
The musical marker of Godspell was the next song as Sophia Martin (Robin) sung the familiar “Day by Day,” which in 1972 had reached #13 on the Billboard top 100 song list.
As the show continued, Casey O’Connor (Gilmer) sang “Learn Your Lessons Well,” and Kirsten Denis (JoAnne) “O, Bless My Soul. Both of these ladies performed their scores with energy and let their outstanding voices capture the audience’s attention.
Showmanship was the course of the next key score that featured a duo by Boucher and Cordes that at first generated laughs when Jesus proclaimed to be a reader of shoes. This was a perfect entrance to the tap dance performance that was a high-energy display of the talents of both of these young performers. Done to the tune of “All for the Best,” this duo provided a nice upbeat tempo that captivated the audience.
As the show reached its halfway point, the next up was a tune called “All Good Gifts” featuring a solo by Mitch Jensen (Lamar). He would make a re-entry for the second portion of the show with a reprise of “Learn Your Lessons Well.” Jensen demonstrated his versatility by singing and also playing an instrument during his moment in the spotlight.
The next solo featured the breath-taking performance by Kendall Davison (Sonia), who entered the auditorium through the main doors and worked her way to the stage as she sang “Turn Back O Man.” With the spotlight beaming down, she shined bright and once again let her wonderful vocals mesmerize the audience.
The show continued with another chance for Boucher to strut his talent as he strummed a guitar while singing “Alas for You.”
It was then time for Stephanie Fortune (Peggy) to shine starting the song “By My Side,” and she successfully put the audience in a trance-like state. She was then joined by Casey O”Connor to perform a very touching duet.
Matthew Varden (Jeffrey) then took front and center with an entertaining song and dance piece, singing to the tune of “We Beseech Thee.” He performed this portion of the show with the variety of skillful tactics that encapsulated what the show was designed to be – a medley of song, dance and laughs.
But following this fun portion, the show’s mood began to shift as the betrayal of Jesus by Judas neared. Dorran Boucher dipped into his bag of musical talents as he strummed an acoustic guitar and sung the solo “Beautiful.” He was followed by Noah Cordes, who was also cast as Judas, as he performed “On the Willows,” that set the stage for the Last Supper and crucifixion scenes.
But Godspell was so much more than song and dance. In between each musical performance were theatrical versions of parables, neatly performed and included the serious message of biblical lessons but communicated with humor and the skill of the cast. Some of the parables used song and one-liners that had the audience laughing and giggling.
The play’s grand finale came with the crucifixion scene as Jesus was “tied” to the cross. Setting the somber mood for the audience was an impressive kaleidoscope rainbow that was projected onto the ceiling along with a darkened stage. The cast lined the cross scene and wailed in sorrow as Jesus would take his last breaths.
This scene was profoundly effective as all the theatrical elements conveyed to sadness and sorrow of the moment. From the lighting to the powerful performances, this amounted to a perfect storm on stage and had the audience mesmerized and silent.
As the crucifixion scene unfolded, one could hear a pin drop and the only sounds were that of sniffles and sobbing. It was truly an emotional ride for the audience as they had gone from joyful song to somberness and tears.
Following the death of Jesus, his body was placed onto the shoulders of all the male characters as the rest of the cast followed and the final song is performed right in the aisle. Then the lights went out.
But in a clear representation of the resurrection, the lights went back on as the entire cast ran back to the stage and all became bright again. The audience was reminded as to the magic of the show when the cast once again broke into song with an encore of “Day by Day” which led to a rousing round of applause and a nice, well-deserved standing ovation.
The performance of Godspell would not have been so successful if it didn’t have good music to accompany it. This was provided by Liz Cordes on keyboard, Lucky Cerruti on guitar, Wayne Davison on bass and Jeff LaFebvre on drums. The lighting was ably handled by Dave Naone, with Bryce Davison and Lowden Pratt the spot operators and Kasandra Sipler as the lighting assistant, who all helped created the wonderful atmosphere for the play.
Meeting the challenge
The performance of Godspell was a great challenge for the young cast, but each member, most of whom have become veterans of the Tupper Lake High School stage, were able to hit the top of their abilities.
Dorran Boucher, who has had a lead role in many previous school productions, used his distinct variety of skills to effectively play the role of Jesus. His character was obviously the central figure in the play, and he was able to be the shining star. Whether his scene required serious dialogue, jokes, songs or playing an instrument, he certainly stood out, and was especially effective in the challenging crucifixion scene.
Noah Cordes was cast in the dual role of John the Baptist and Judas, and had many difficult scenes, from a tap dance sequence to a solo. He also mastered several key scenes. He was able to demonstrate his many talents.
Matthew Varden, Casey O’Connor, Mitch Jensen, Andrew Trudeau, Kendall Davison and Delanie Clark were all on the Tupper Lake stage for the last time as they are members of the Class of 2017. It appeared that these student actors had that realization and were at the top of their performing games.
Kirsten Denis, Stephanie Fortune and Sophia Martin also stood out, and proved they will be the rising stars for future productions of the Red & Black Players.
Not to be forgotten were members of the ensemble, who despite not having a prominent role, were a powerful presence just being on the stage. This group consisted of Emily Burns, Benjamin Lanthier, Alyssah Martinez, Jessica Mitchell, Charlotte Price, Lily St. Onge and Kyler teRiele. These young performers just might have a key role in next year’s school productions. And perhaps, there are young aspiring performers who will take the spot light and vie for the chance to be on stage.
Since Sunday’s show was the final one of the year, it also brought recognition to several seniors. Musical Director Liz Cordes, who has witnessed these students flourish through their academic time at in the Tupper Lake school system, had the honor of calling each one over to receive a rose.
The following is what she said about each senior in the order they were called:
“Andrew (Trudeau) is our honorary senior. He will be finishing up his senior year at Clarkson University next year, making this his last show. Andrew has grown so much in his time on stage – from a side kick in Back to the 80s to Herb in Godspell – you are ending your time here with a bang. Thank you for all your hard work, we will miss you!”
“Delanie (Clark), although technically a senior, is another one leaving the nest early. Anyone who knows Delanie knows what a hard worker she is. Helpful to her cast mates both on and off stage – she is someone I could always depend on to help with hair, makeup, mic wires, rehearsal videos, you name it! We will miss your attention to detail, but we know you’re going to do amazing things in college!”
“Matthew (Varden), has become such a fearless performer and I am so proud of what he’s brought to the stage this year. He really blossomed in this role, adding his own twist to the music and the acting. Thank you for your hard work and your willingness to step out of your comfort zone with this show. This is a great jumping off point for you as you move into college next year! Lots of luck!”
“Mitch (Jensen), – you put a lot of trust and faith in Mr. Cordes and I when we cast you in this role. We knew you could do it and you didn’t disappoint! We are so proud of how much your confidence grew as a performer – vocally and in acting. Thank you for being one of the people who kept everyone updated, on time, and in the right place. We all will miss you and your organization!”
“Casey (O’Connor), is one of our busiest performers – varsity basketball and a job, and a lead in the musical. Not sure how she did it all, but I am so proud of the work she has done and the leadership she brought to the Red & Black Players this year. Thank you for always being willing to run out and pick people up, or sell some ads, or gather some sticks. I know you’ll do amazing things in college, but we’ll miss you here!”
“Kendall (Davison), What to say? You have grown so much as a performer in your time on this stage and you put a lot of trust in us this year when you were cast as Sonia. You have made her your own and killed it. It has been such a luxury to have you as dance captain, helping everyone feel confident in their moves. Who will fill your shoes? You’re going to kill it in college, I have no doubt.”
By Rich Rosentreter