The second production of Godspell to grace the stages of the American High School Theatre Festival this Fringe - from St Luke's School in Connecticut - is a skilfully directed spectacle that showcases very well the ability and energy of its young cast. Although, in more ways than one, it hits a few bum notes.
Jesus' (Schuyler Andersen) presentation in particular seems rather uncertain. Whilst his disciples are artistically clad in brown and grey rags, Jesus is set apart with nineties-style tracksuit bottoms, Pepsi T-shirt and colourful top-hat. He is also differentiated physically from his gang throughout much of the production - often stage centre or physically elevated - a break from Godspell's classic communitarian message. Yet the production hasn't really done enough work on Jesus' character to justify this status in elevation: he is not charismatic enough and nor is Andersen the strongest singer in the cast. It is difficult to see how this Jesus could have been a threat to the Roman authorities, which makes his jeopardy difficult to believe during the Passion.
Communality is still central to this production, with the cast at their most comfortable when singing as one choral unit. This also allowed them the volume to give the songs plenty of punch – whereas many of the solo singers struggled to compete with the music during those songs where they weren't mic'd. There are some notes, particularly during 'By My Side' that make the audiences’ faces contort in all sorts of horrible directions - and the less said about the awkward white-rap number towards the show's middle, the better. But this is made up for by stand-out performances from Malcolm Joung as a Judas with plenty of swagger; and a soulful spotlit solo from disciple Allie Works. Even some of the weaker singers have excellent rhythm and the live score always adds more than a little sparkle to proceedings.
Where the show really excels is in its visuals: neatly choreographed shapes and set-pieces, which really lift this show above the level of many other school productions. Jesus' crucifixion is especially visually arresting, with an almost garish combination of fairy lights and red sheeting combining with blaring electronic noises to create a bright intensity and haunting parallel with a more recent means of execution, the electric chair.
St Luke's School deliver an energetic and enjoyable rendition of the Godspell soundtrack. But their scope is limited to the score's novel stylistic presentation of the parables, rather than finding a new angle on either the musical or biblical text. In the end, it's not exactly a revelation.