The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What is the Holy Spirit, anyway?

Another double-deal this week.  Text and video.  Maybe this is a thing for a while...

Pentecost, Year B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

What is the Holy Spirit?

Today the church celebrates the Day of Pentecost - the commemoration of the church having received the gift of the Holy Spirit - but we don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about it.  What does it mean to have the gift of the Holy Spirit?  What does that gift look like?  What do we do with it?

We talk about the Spirit a lot in passing.  We talk about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated a baptism, and in it, I announced that Shaina had been “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  Every week we say the creed, and in it we proclaim that we believe in the Holy Spirit.

But what is that “Holy Spirit”?  What does it look like?  Feel like?  Sound like?

Today we heard three very different explanations of the Holy Spirit.

In the reading from Acts we heard the most iconic version of the story of the Holy Spirit.  The disciples are gathered together, still living in fear from the horrors that they had witnessed in the crucifixion.  Through it they had forged an even tighter community - if that could have been possible.  And in an ironic affront to their fear, suddenly they were engulfed in a violent rush of wind.  The spirit descended on each of them in tongues as of fire, and inexplicably they each began to speak in other languages.

They knew things that they hadn’t before known.  They understood new languages.

It’s a shocking image.

But then we turn the page.  We hear from Paul about the “first fruits of the Spirit”.

For Paul those “first fruits” are not so much about understanding or knowledge as they are about intercession.  The Holy Spirit is the helper that makes up for our own weakness.  The Spirit provides a conduit - almost a transmitter or a path - for clearer communication with God.  For Paul the Holy Spirit is not that “violent rush of wind”, but instead, is the one who intercedes for us to God with “sighs too deep for words”.

They’re very different images: a violent wind and a deep sigh.

Then we come to Jesus.  As he prepares to leave the disciples - and perhaps more importantly, as he prepares the disciples for his leaving - we hear yet another image of this gift: this Spirit.

Jesus describes an “Advocate” - a “Spirit of truth”, he says, who will come to reveal all of the things that had been left unsaid.  As he said, “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  As our ability to bear the truth grows, so, too, will the truth that will be revealed.

Truth, it seems, was too much for one lifetime - even the lifetime of the Christ.

So just in the context of this one Sunday we hear three different understandings of the Holy Spirit: the violent rush of wind that brings knowledge and understanding, the sigh too deep for words that intercedes on our behalf, and the Advocate bringing truth we cannot yet bear.

If we were to look elsewhere in the Bible, we would hear other images still.  Most notably I remember the story of the giving of the Holy Spirit from John’s Gospel that we hear every year on the Second Sunday of Easter - it’s not just the story of “Doubting Thomas” - but a story about the Holy Spirit - when Jesus gives the Spirit of peace to the disciples through no more than a breath.

So the question remains - what is the Holy Spirit?

I think there are so many different descriptions of the Holy Spirit, because we all have so many different understandings and experiences of it.  Though most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the Holy Spirit, nearly all of us have had experiences of the power of the Spirit at different times in our lives.

We all have different needs and experiences - we all are God’s creations, each in our own unique ways - so the Spirit meets us in different ways and at different times.

As I was preparing to preach today, I thought I’d be telling you about some of mine - some of the times that I believe that I’ve been in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  One of my favorite stories about that was about six years ago when I heard about the election of our current Presiding Bishop.  I’ve often preached about that moment: sitting in the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, and hearing the collective gasp of hundreds of surprised Episcopalians as an experience similar to that “violent rush of wind” that we hear about in Acts.  Or, I thought I might tell you about feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit at my two ordinations - how we prayed that God would send the Holy Spirit, and how I felt that rush of peace and understanding and intercession that the biblical stories promise.

I even thought I might tell you some of the simpler stories: about how every time I sit down to prepare a sermon, or stand up to deliver one, I invoke the Holy Spirit, and how even I am surprised at how often my prayers are answered.  Or about how every time I approach a meeting that I don’t want to go to, or feel uncertain of its outcome, how I turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance.  Or about how every time I find myself in a difficult or frightening pastoral situation, how my first step is to pray for the Holy Spirit to intercede - to give me the strength that I wouldn’t have simply on my own.

I think those are all important stories.  They all reveal a bit of what the Holy Spirit is and does and looks like and feels like.  At least for me.

But the common thread is that each of those stories - each of those experiences of the Holy Spirit - is preceded by openness; asking; making room for what’s already there.

The Holy Spirit is our gift: the gifts of understanding, peace, intercession, and truth.  Gifts that are available to us if only we could be more open to receiving them.

We celebrate Pentecost to remember that those gifts are there for us.  We celebrate Pentecost to remember to make room.

So what is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is what we need, when we need it.

It may look different in your life than it does in mine.  I would expect that it would.  The real question is, will we see it?  Amen.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jesus in love

The ongoing preaching experiment continues....  This week there's both a manuscript and a video.  For the past few weeks there wasn't a video for a variety of reasons - one week I was out of town, one week the Bishop was making his Official Visitation (and, as such he was preaching), one week I forgot the camera...  But here we are again - now with both.  Who knows what next week will offer!

Easter 7B

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This time of year graduation pictures begin appearing on my Facebook wall.  It seems that every day there are new pictures.  This week there was a particular inundation of them, as the two seminaries I attended both held their graduations.  Friends at both schools were posting pictures celebrating their achievements and their friendships.

Another friend posted a blog about those kinds of pictures.  The writer remembered that just a year ago, she, too was in them.  She remembered the pictures that she posed for, the pictures that she arranged: the people she wanted to be sure to capture the moment with, the people and relationships she wanted to remember…

As she looked back on her pictures, she remembered not just the moment that was captured, but the other moments that the pictures represented.  Relationships don’t just happen.  They aren’t begun on the day of graduation - so the pictures don’t tell the whole story.  The stories of her relationships took time to develop - and they developed through the many moments that weren’t photographed: the long conversations, the exhaustion from the difficult work, the hugs of support through challenging times and circumstances, the celebrations of smaller achievements along the way…  The graduation was a piece of the story, but by no means the whole story.  The graduation was a milestone, but the mile had already been traveled.

It’s really such a simple insight - but it means so much.

I thought about that insight as I was preparing to preach this week.

Theologians refer to the Gospel lesson for this week as “Jesus’ high priestly prayer”, but I’ve always heard it a little more intimately than that designation suggests.  I first seriously encountered this prayer a few years ago.  I was in a time of uncertainty in my life - vocationally and personally.  I was feeling troubled.  I went into the church to pray and I read these words.

It began to occur to me that these were not just the perfunctory words of some general prayer, but that they were words of love.  They were the love song of Jesus - a love song sung to God on our behalf.

In the larger story of the Gospel, this is the prayer that John imagines Jesus to have prayed alone in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was to die.  This is his last long sit down with God.  This is the culmination of his ministry among us.

Some might say that the story was already done - that this time of prayer was just the “wrapping up”.  Others might say that the story was just about to begin - that the crucifixion is the real point, and that this was all just leading up to it.

But I think of this prayer - this love song - more as a snapshot - a moment.  Not the journey itself, but a reflection of the journey - both that that had already past, and all that was about to come.

Like the graduation pictures that we all see at this time of year, this snapshot gives us a glimpse of the deeper relationships that undergird everything else.

Jesus had already been through so much - through the miracles, and the teachings, and the followers; through the maddening crowds and the anger of religion and faith gone wrong; through the tender moments and the friendships forged.  All of those moments had added up to something - they had added up to love.  Jesus had not just done a task for God - Jesus had not just shown God to the people; but he had been one of the people, and he had fallen in love.

Earlier this week, in our staff Bible study on this text, we had some interesting conversations around what I just said - that Jesus was in love with us.  We all hear it all the time: God is love, Jesus is love, Jesus loves me, this I know.

The idea of introducing love into the story of Jesus isn’t new.

But somehow, an “in love” Jesus is harder to take.

It’s true.  Falling in love is a foolish act.  When we do it, we allow our hearts to take control.  We become emotional.  We become irrational.  We become vulnerable.  It’s at least a little bit crazy.

But love isn’t an entirely intellectual pursuit.  That’s something we all know to be true from our own experience, but for some reason, the idea of Jesus falling in love - and all of the risk and emotion that that entails - can sit a little bit uneasily on us.

We want our God to be strong.  We want God to make sense.  Most of all, we want to believe that we can count on God to be strong and make sense when nothing else does.

We want God to love us, but being in love may be a step too far.  We know what being in love does to someone, and we need God to be stronger than that.

The thing is, we also need an “in love” God.

When we’re unlovable, we need irrationality.  We need love to triumph.

When we do those things that might separate us from God’s will, we need God to be emotional.  Reason isn’t enough.

When we’re in our most vulnerable places, we need a God who can be just as vulnerable at our sides - just as present and exposed as we are at our worst.

Of course the intellectual side of love is important, too.  God loves us because we are God’s own people.  God loves us because Jesus loved us.  God loves us because Jesus was one of us.  God loves us because… because… because…

But love needs something more than “because”.  Love needs something deeper.  Love needs the heart and the gut.

And that’s just the kind of love that Jesus shows for us in the gospel lesson today - love that abides not just in reason, or in a moment, but love that abides in deep relationship.  Love that grows out of experience and understanding.  Love that grows out of all the “un-photographed” moments that build a relationship.

As we end this Easter Season, remember that you are washed in just that kind of love.  Remember in your darkest nights, not just that God loves you, but that God loves you with irrational and reckless abandon.  And remember this 17th chapter of John.  We read a piece of it today, but bookmark it in your Bibles, and read it all.  It’s not very long.  Turn to it when you feel most alone and most vulnerable.  Turn to it when you feel most unlovable.  Because you are not.  You are loved.  Jesus loves you, this I know.  Amen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Anglicans, Sexuality, and the Bible: an African consultation

Last October, I had the distinct honor of being invited to participate in a consultation on human sexuality between Anglicans in the United States and Anglicans from throughout Africa (along with a few others from other parts of the world, as well as some Lutheran observers who were checking out the model we were initiating with the hope of doing the same in their communion).

It truly was a life-changing and deeply spiritual experience.  We were the Anglican Communion in action!

Watch this video.  My brief interview is about 3 minutes in, but the whole thing is worth your time!  See what the Anglican Communion is really all about.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

FCS: How to Succeed...

Quick facts:
  • Show: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
  • Broadway
  • Date: Sunday, May 13, 2012
  • Time: 3:00 p.m.
  • Closing date: May 20, 2012
  • Venue: Al Hirschfeld Theatre
  • Running time: 2:45 (one intermission)
  • My seat: Good!  Sixth row from the stage, on the aisle toward center, stage left
  • Ticket source: TDF
  • Understudies: Paige Faure in the role of Miss Jones; Holly Ann Butler in the role of First Scrubwoman
Synopsis: The latest Broadway revival of the oft-running favorite tale of J. Pierrepont Finch - an ambitious young aspiring business man, working his way up the corporate ladder in the world of wickets.

My thoughts: On the scale of "importance", How to Succeed... isn't likely to turn many heads, but even so, it's a delightful show, filled with hummable tunes and a fun and light story.

As I've mentioned before, I love to listen to the audience members around me at intermission and after the show, to see if our experiences are lining up.  The buzz around me today was uniformly positive - in exactly the ways that you would expect from a show like this.  A family behind me was out for a Mother's Day outing and the father asked his daughter, "What do you think?"  She responded with an enthusiastic, "I love it!"  I overheard someone else walking up the aisle say, "I don't want it to be over!" - a sentiment that was repeated by an unrelated someone else almost to the word a few minutes later.

There's no question - How to Succeed... is a crowd-pleaser!

I had seen this production last fall when Daniel Radcliffe was in the role of Finch and John Larroquette was in the role of Mr. Biggley.  I was curious to see how Nick Jonas and Beau Bridges approached their respective roles.

In the fall, I was blown away by Daniel Radcliffe.  He wasn't particularly strong vocally, but his acting more than made up for it.  He was sharp and precise and could mug every audience member to their feet.  Though I'm not generally very "up" on my pop culture, I was looking forward to seeing if Nick Jonas provided some correction to the vocals - seeing as he is known for being a singer (granted, I'd never heard the Jonas Brothers before, but I hear they were quite popular for a while...), and has often had major Broadway roles.  Unfortunately, I have to admit that Jonas, while capable, to be sure, was weaker still than Radcliffe had been, and offered nowhere near the on-stage charisma of his predecessor.

Beau Bridges, on the other hand, was an improvement over John Larroquette.  He didn't raise the house with his voice, but he had a great deal more charisma than Larroquette, and seemed to have a more natural sense of comic delivery.  Perhaps Larroquette - while a very talented actor - was a bit too dry for the role.

The rest of the cast, however, was an assemblage of shining brilliance!

Tammy Blanchard, in the role of Hedy La Rue, was far and away the star of the production.  She carried the ditzy, wobbling mannerisms of her character all the way to comic genius.  In a role that could very easily become annoying, Blanchard turned La Rue into someone lovable - bordering on a heroine.

Rose Hemingway (in the role of Rosemary Pilkington) was another incredible delight.  She found that often-elusive balance of deep and personal interaction with the audience, all the way maintaining the integrity of her distance beyond the veil of the fantasy that was being portrayed before us.  Moreover, her singing is simply lovely, but also girded with power and grace.

Michael Urie, while at times a bit over-the-top playing Bud Frump, was a delightful addition as well.  Like his character, he tried very hard, but fortunately for us, Urie was more successful than the sniveling, useless man he played!

The entire ensemble worked very well, but one face that kept grabbing my attention was Robert Hager (in the role of Mr. Davis).  Though he was firmly planted in the ensemble, the precision of his approach to his role was striking and added to the delight of an already delightful experience.

The choreography by also-director Rob Ashford was perfect - so much so that I found myself wondering if I was in Christopher Gattelli land again!  It was physically intense, clever, and demonstrated brilliant movement.  It propelled the story in a subtle way (you know how I love subtlety!) with the workers of the company moving around and through each other like the cogs in a finely ordered machine.

The set, designed by Derek McLane, was deep and layered, changed gracefully from scene to scene, flexibly allowed for the wildly shifting pastels of the color palette, had huge levels to pull the eye around the stage, and provided a structure through which the entire aesthetic of the show could be conveyed.  It was quintessential 1960s - speaking to the popularity of the genre in the wider culture right now.  I kept remembering Mad Men and Pan Am.  It accomplished all that it needed to and more.

I wasn't planning to see this show again so soon, but after hearing that it would be closing next week, I decided to jump at the chance.  While I feel a tinge of sadness that this delightful production is closing, I recognize that it's after an admirable run of more than a year.  I'm also comforted to believe that it probably won't be long until someone mounts it again.  How to Succeed... will never be too far away!

Closing arguments:
  • Would I see it again?  My opportunities for seeing this production are over.  But if I had my wishes, I'd have loved to have seen it with Daniel Radcliffe and Beau Bridges together - I think they would have been a real pair!
  • Would I recommend it to others? If so, who? Absolutely.  It's a classic, old-fashioned, good-time Broadway show.  Perfect for all ages!
  • Twitter review: Still a delight after all these years!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

FCS: Rent

Quick facts:
  • Show: Rent
  • Off-Broadway
  • Date: Friday, May 11, 2012
  • Time: 8:00 p.m.
  • Closing date: open-ended
  • Venue: New World Stages (Stage 1)
  • Running time: 2:30 (one intermission)
  • My seat: Not bad.  Center of the center section, in the orchestra, a bit beyond half-way back
  • Ticket source: TDF
  • Understudies: Marcus Paul James in the role of Tom Collins; Xavier Cano in the role of Mr. Jefferson, Paul, and others
Synopsis: The off-Broadway revival of the landscape-shifting Jonathan Larson musical from 1996.  It won the Tony award for Best Musical and was one of the rare musicals to win a Pulitzer Prize.  Rent tells the story of a tight-knit group of friends in Manhattan's Lower East Side, struggling to create and survive in the midst of financial and physical hardships.

My thoughts: I've often reflected on how the experience of live theater is so much the experience of a "moment in time" - how the actors, and other artists, and audience are all invested not just in a performance, but in a shared experience.  But last night's performance of Rent had me thinking about the "moment in time" from a different perspective: through so much of the show last night I found myself wondering if I was participating in a moment whose time had passed.  In the 16 years since Rent first opened on Broadway, the world has changed so much.  And to a degree, I often felt last night like I was watching a museum piece compared to the relevance and importance that the show once represented.

Like so many people from my generation, Rent is an important part of my own personal history.  It's been described as being for my generation what Hair was for our parents' generation.  In terms of my own life-story, Rent originally came at what was an important crossroads in my life.  At the same time that it was coming into popular acclaim, I was coming out.  And it served as the soundtrack to my life during that important time of self-realization.  It was the music and the story that fed me as I was learning to love myself under a new set of circumstances.

Part of what is shocking to me in seeing this show - after the first time I heard it 16 years ago, and the first time I saw it on a national tour some 14 years ago, and the first time I saw it on Broadway some 13 years ago - is how much it is no longer the hardcore and edgy piece that it once was.  I remember when Rent was shocking.  Now, somehow, it has become "family friendly".  In the theater last night, I was surrounded by teenagers - many of whom weren't even born yet when Rent burst onto the scene.

My feelings on this production in particular are mixed, at best.

Part of the problem is that it's still too much the show that it was first designed to be.  To the degree that it's been updated, it's been done so unevenly.  Though scaled down for the smaller venue, the set design is essentially as it was in the original production.  While many of the costumes (designed by Angela Wendt) are essentially the same as they were in the original production - at least in style - some character's costumes seem to have been "hipsterized" to today's standards.  For example: Mark is a hipster, almost exactly out of a 2012 Brooklyn style sheet - so much so that the kid next to me was wearing almost his exact outfit.  Roger, on the other hand, is found wearing these platform combat boots as might have been found in the 1990s London punk scene.  Collins is a hipster, but Benjamin Coffin III is wearing a shiny, lime green accented "pleather" jacket that belongs solidly to the 1980s.  The show promised from the outset that it was set in 1991, but the costuming cluttered that attempt.

Moreover, the attempt to keep the piece as a whole "exactly" (to the degree that "exactly" is even possible) as it was in the original, missed out on one of the more important aspects of the show in its original form.  As I said above, part of what made Rent so important in the moment in time in which it originally debuted was that it was so edgy - it spoke in such plain language to the concerns of its day.  I would have been more impressed if it had attempted to be that same voice to today than I was at its attempt to replicate the voice of those years ago.  For example, the whole bit about clearing the tent city in the park could remain incredibly relevant in the light of the recent and ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement.  The heartbreaking saga of impoverished/disenfranchised masses fighting the oppression of corporate powers remains highly relevant, but the current production doesn't point us to that realization.  It presents the struggle as an historical one - not a current one.  As a result, the production becomes a caricature of itself.

In terms of logistics, the current production represented some additional hardships.  I'm rarely a fan of literalism - almost anywhere (biblical literalism comes to mind...) - and certainly not in terms of stage presentation.  While the production slapped me with troubling literalism in several places, the most glaring offense happened in their interpretation of the song "Christmas Bells" near the end of Act I - this is the one that repeats the "beginning to snow" line several times throughout.  Each time "beginning to snow" was sung, snow would would begin to fall from above and then abruptly stop...  Only to start again the next time the line was sung.  The first time the snow began to fall, it made sense and was clever.  Thereafter it was overkill and silly.

Another logistic failure of the production was found in the projection designs by Peter Nigrini.  The projections were entirely unnecessary, and, almost without fail, more of a distraction than a help in telling the story.  They were cleverly projected onto the set in mostly out of the way corners, but most times I found myself trying to figure out what they were and why they were there.  The story was being told sufficiently without them.  The only possible exceptions  to their distraction were: at Angel's funeral and in the song, "Contact".  They added something of worth to these two scenes, but even there they weren't necessary.

In terms of the on-stage performers, the cast was mostly disappointing.  John Grisetti (in the role of Mark Cohen) was generally pleasant, but overall unremarkable.  MJ Rodriguez (in the role of Angel) was a fine performer, but the new editorial of occasionally lowering her voice for single words now and then was simply lame.  We know she's a boy.  Throwing it out there in that way just made her character silly.  Marcus Paul James (in the role of Tom Collins) was clearly not up to the task of portraying his character vocally - which is saying something because it's not a particularly challenging part vocally.  Ariana Fernandez (in the role of Mimi) was capable at her "rock star, screamy" parts, but missed the mark in her ballads.

Conversely, Justin Johnston (in the role of Roger) was one of the brighter spots in the performance.  He brought his own style and character to the role that was not at all forced or phony.  He was every bit as good as the original, if not a step or two above!

Michael Wartella (in the ensemble playing Gordon, Waiter, and others) was the shining star of the cast.  His voice is simply beautiful, and he capably portrayed the many roles he was called to perform.

While my thoughts have been, to now, generally unsupportive of this production, it is only fair to admit that despite the production's many shortcomings, it still delivered incredible emotion for me.  I teared up several times, and by the end of the show I was sitting in a puddle of my own tears.  In the end, the quality of the book and music triumphed over all the other adversity.  Rent is still an important and evocative show, and while I have issues with this current iteration, I am happy that it is still making its mark on the musical theater world.  I look forward to seeing how its place in the canon of the genre continues to evolve and be reinterpreted in the years to come.

Closing arguments:
  • Would I see it again?  No.  Not this production.
  • Would I recommend it to others? If so, who? No.  Those who don't know the show would get a better experience of it through one of the film versions or simply through the cast recording.  Those who do know and love the show would just be disappointed.
  • Twitter review:  Larson's work continues to triumph over the adversity of sub-par productions.

Monday, May 07, 2012

FCS: Godspell

Quick facts:
  • Show: Godspell
  • Broadway
  • Date: Sunday, May 6, 2012
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Closing date: open-ended
  • Venue: Circle in the Square
  • Running time: 2:15 (one intermission)
  • My seat: Great! 3rd row from the stage, behind the piano. But, as it is theater in the round, there really aren't any bad seats.
  • Ticket source: TDF
  • Understudies: Julia Mattison in for Morgan James; Hannah Elless in for Anna Maria Perez De Tagle
Synopsis: The Broadway revival of Stephen Schwartz's musical setting of the Gospel of Matthew.

My thoughts: I saw Godspell late in previews last Fall, and really enjoyed it.  So as I was looking for a "thank you" gift for a member of my staff who is simply incredible, I quickly thought a night of theater might be just the thing.  And really, this was the show for her.

My instincts were correct.  We both had a great time!  Though a New York City native, Vanessa hasn't seen much theater in her life - and this was only her second musical (my mother took her to her first last summer).  As we were leaving the theater she said, "I can see now why you go so often!  It was beautiful and moving and now I can't stop singing!"

I think that really sums it up.  Godspell is the kind of show you just can't help but fall in love with.  It's funny and serious at times, and in the end, uplifting in the deepest way.

Like just about everyone else, I think, I was in an amateur production of Godspell once upon a time.  So I know the show inside and out - and this production is truly stellar.

As I mentioned above, the stage is in the center of the house, and as a result of that, there's a real sense of connection and closeness between the performers and the audience, and with the whole experience of the performance.  One of the things that I often reflect on in the experience of live theater is the sense of community that we as an audience feel.  There's a sense that we're "in it" together with the performers.  We're not just passively watching, as is the case of video performances.  Our energy is there (potentially, at least) feeding the performers.  And their mistakes and improvisations can't simply be edited.  We are invested in a particular performance - in a moment in time - in a way that can't be found in most other forms of entertainment.  As such, community emerges.  Human interaction - in an age where that is increasingly hard to come by - happens.  And as true as that is for any live theatrical event, it's even more true when the performers are literally in the middle of the audience.

From my own theological perspective, I can't imagine a better time to have theater "in the round" than in a show that tells the story of Jesus.  Building Christian community is, I think, one of the most important things that we, in my line of work, try to be about.  So having a theater experience that reflects (and encourages) that theological position, makes Godspell a home run for this priest/theater junkie.

The stage, while seemingly somewhat bare throughout much of the show, is dynamic and changing.  The scenic design by David Korins does exactly what I usually want and expect live theater to do - it gives me just enough.  It makes the performers work, and it makes me work.  But at the same time, it surprises me again and again.

The choreography, by the ridiculously talented Christopher Gattelli, was brilliant, just as I've come to expect from Gattelli.  Off the top of my head, I can now think of three shows that I've seen very recently that were given the Christopher Gattelli treatment - Silence! the musical, Godspell, and, of course, his now Tony nominated work in Newsies.  As I was reflecting on his work tonight, I found myself looking for some trademark style - some signature that I could see running through these shows.  It wasn't there in the form of particular moves, or anything like that, but I do think I found it: his work is organic.  It has a way of brilliantly matching the moment - the cast, the characters, the music, the story...  It fits so naturally that you almost might not even notice it's there.  Dance is presented as just the only logical reaction to the events going on around the characters.  I can't quite imagine how he does it, but it's a thrilling thing to behold.

The cast is outstanding.  It's hard to think about who the real winners are, because there are so many.

As I mentioned before, I saw this production last fall with the original star, Hunter Parrish, in the role of Jesus.  He was great - and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Weeds television star could prove to be so versatile.  But even so, I must say that Corbin Bleu is a huge step up for the production.  He has many of the same qualities of his predecessor in terms of star power and stage magnetism, but he also brings a noticeably elevated level of experience and quality to the singing and dancing required of the role.  It brings to mind the story of the wedding feast at Cana - the one where Jesus turns water into wine.  After they've run out, Jesus provides more, and it is remarked that the best was saved for last.  That seems to be how it is here - Parrish was excellent, but wow! - look what they've brought in for when that ran out!  It was worth a second visit, just to see all that Bleu brought to the table in his interpretation of the role.

Another stand out performance is by Glee alum, Telly Leung.  The beauty of his voice is only matched by its flexibility and range.  As to stage presence - he is equally flexible and energetic.  He gives us everything he has, and he has the audience eating out of his hands.  It's delightful to imagine how much of himself has been infused into his character.  If that sense is at all true, the people in his life are truly fortunate.  He is generous and clever and his performance is a joy to behold.

As I said earlier, there are simply too many favorites in this cast to mention them all, but I would be remiss not to give at least a bit of nod to the brilliant and intense Uzo Aduba.  Her performance has something of a Tracy Chapman vibe to it - which is probably why I loved it so deeply.  She bleeds emotion all over the stage such that it spills out and floods the house.

And finally, much of the credit for the effectiveness of the comedy is due to the slapstick brilliance of both Nick Blaemire and George Salazar.  If you go to the theater to laugh, these guys are your guys to watch.

My one moment of somewhat conflicted emotions about this production is the final scene.  The priest in me can't help but cringe a little that there is no treatment of the resurrection - at least not in any sense of bodily resurrection.  But I will say, however, that on this second time seeing the show, I did notice something that had somewhat eluded me the first time.  Though the Jesus character doesn't come dancing and smiling at the end as we usually expect in these kinds of shows, there is something of a consideration of spiritual resurrection - resurrection through the community.  The cast sings snips of songs that they had been singing all along - the songs that developed their characters; the songs that told their stories - and suddenly those songs merge into the high song (prayer?) of Jesus - "Beautiful City".  Jesus had taught them - "We can build a beautiful city - yes we can.  Yes we can!"  And in the end they get it.  They pick up his solo in beautiful harmony and take it as their own.  I'll admit.  I don't know what resurrection really means.  I don't know if the body of Jesus that had been killed walked again.  But my own faith doesn't rest on those kinds of things - the miracles.  What I do believe, however, is that Christ lives in the community that still follows him.  I believe that Christ lives in the harmonies that we carry on in his stead.  So while I do initially gruff at how this production chose to leave the end of the story, there's a part of me that respects it.  I respect that they left it to me to find the resurrection, and that they didn't shove it on me in some contrived way.

Closing arguments:
  • Would I see it again?  Well, this was actually my second time seeing it...  So, I guess that's a yes!  So I guess the question is, would I go for a third?  Maybe.  I don't give many shows the honor of a THIRD viewing, but with the right company, I'd certainly consider it for this one.
  • Would I recommend it to others? If so, who? Definitely.  If money were no object, I'd love to organize a trip for my whole congregation - or as many as I could get - to go see the show with me, and to lead them in a discussion of it.  I think my mother would appreciate it, and I plan to recommend it to her on her next trip.  It would be a great show to share with younger theater goers - to nurture their emerging passion and in a truly family-friendly show.
  • Twitter review:  A show that keeps getting better. Highly recommended!