The big annual show by the Musical Youth Company of Oxford is always a cause for excitement, being the culmination of months of preparation by some extremely talented people.
And it is not only family and friends of those involved who look forward to these performances; the shows frequently hold their own against the professional productions which make up the bulk of the Oxford Playhouse’s programming.
This one was different though – it was even better than that, not only matching the work of many professional actors and musicians but surpassing it.
This production of 70s hippy classic Godspell was a freewheeling, all-singing and dancing delight.
Standards were high throughout with every line, song and dance routine rehearsed within an inch of its life. Director and choreographer Guy Brigg clearly runs a very tight ship. With a youth production of this nature you would expect and forgive the occasional slip – but there were none.
Boldly updated from the 1971 original, this Godspell remained faithful to the central story – itself based on the Gospel of St Matthew, with its rapid-fire sequence of parables and musical numbers. However, it was also lent authenticity, in the hands of a cast of teenagers with contemporary references (including an amusing Donald Trump impression), youth-speak and the black apocalyptic punk-grunge costumes.
The stand-out star was Jesus, Cherwell School sixth-former Zakkai Goriely – a young actor of enormous charisma and ability who, with flowing locks and beatific smile, even looked the part as the Messiah.
But this was an ensemble effort, and there were some extremely strong support roles, not least by wonderful actors and singers Ellie Greave as Jay TeeBee, Amber Potter as Robin, Olivia Baird as Peggy and Saffi Needham, as a fabulously feisty scene-stealing Sonia. Musical highlights came with Robin’s memorable Day By Day and Sonia’s Turn Back O Man.
A triumph then. Those involved should feel very proud. I expect many of them to go very far in this business indeed.
Godspell is what The Passion of The Christ would have looked like if it was performed by the cast of Glee. The 1971 musical is written by John Michael Tebelak and Steven Schwartz, the later going on to write the Broadway juggernaut Wicked as well several Disney films including Pocahontas and Enchanted. Based on the life of Jesus, who converts people into being his followers through the use of parables and power ballads, Godspell is brought to the Oxford Playhouse this week by the Musical Youth Company of Oxford (MYCO), a performance company for those aged 12-19.
Having seen this production, it is worth saying from the outset that MYCO are an incredibly impressive outfit. The cast are a talented ensemble who clearly take a disciplined and serious approach to their craft. Credit is due to a couple of standout performances. Zakkai Goriely is on charismatic form as Jesus and Issac Jackson brings a wonderful dour bitchiness to Judas. As for vocal performances, Amber Potter gives a beautiful soft vocal on ‘Day by Day’ and Saffi Needham has sassiness aplenty when performing ‘Turn Back, O Man’ at the start of Act Two. But the standout moment of the night comes from Ellis Lovett who makes easy work of some punishingly high notes on ‘Bless The Lord’.
The design and look of this show is also incredibly cool. Dawn Parson’s costume design progresses the characters slowly from a post-apocalyptic Mad Max world into a more hippyish tie-dye look as they become followers of Jesus. Guy Brigg and Liz Nicholson’s set design creates a lovely split of levels and Ashley Bale’s lighting design brings out an incredible moment of crucifixion foreshadowing. Guy Brigg ties this all together with some flashy choreography and perfect management of a sixty-five-person cast.
Whilst I left the Playhouse last night a big fan of MYCO, I cannot say the same for Godspell itself. It’s fair to say the musical is more influential than it is good. Godspell was groundbreaking upon its first release and clearly paved the way for other rock operas of its kind. Today, its lack of narrative structure and clear characters could alienate some audience members.
Whilst Godspell has its faults I would recommend you go and see not only this, but any MYCO production to see what this talented group of young people can do.
MYCO have once again shown what a talented group they are with their latest production of Godspell, directed by Guy Brigg. First produced in 1971, Godspell is an ensemble piece, originally having just ten actors who are on stage throughout and who play out the parables and passion of Jesus. MYCO have revised this for a group of sixty-five. This meant the stage was a little crowded at times but brought great energy to the whole production. Although there were some excellent individual performances, particularly Zakkai Goriely as Jesus, it was the cohesiveness of the ensemble numbers, with some excellent choreography (Guy Brigg again!), that made this show such a delight. They were backed up by an excellent band, conducted by MYCO’s resident MD, Julie Todd, who played with flair and supported the cast well, giving the numbers the appropriate drive without dominating or drowning the singers. Huge congratulations must go to everyone involved, from the youngsters themselves to all those working behind the scenes to bring everything together. I would say you must go and see the show for yourselves but, sadly, the run has already finished. But do catch MYCO’s future productions if you have a chance. I have never known them to disappoint.