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AHS/TBT’s ‘Godspell’ a refreshing take on the New Testament tale

Courtesy Photo The cast of “Godspell” poses at a recent rehearsal. This is the last weekend to see the musical, a joint production between Thunder Bay Theatre and Alpena High School Theatre Troupe.

ALPENA — “Jesus!”

That’s how the son of God’s followers excitedly greet him in this upbeat, modern rendition of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

Starring a cast of lively teens with Alpena High School Theatre Troupe and a handful of Thunder Bay Theatre actors, “Godspell” is full of fun and surprises. It’s the most entertaining way to learn about the New Testament.

Set in a modern New York City alley, the musical by Stephen Schwartz (not Sondheim, as playgoers will be reminded…) centers around Jesus, his relationship with his disciples, and the lessons to be learned from the parables he teaches. The story takes us on a dynamic journey through the good times, to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and up to the crucifixion.

The musical was adapted from the book by John-Michael Tebelak. It features popular songs such as “Day by Day,” “Learn Your Lessons Well,” “Turn Back, Oh Man,” and many more.

“First ya gotta read ’em then ya gotta heed ’em. You never know when you’re gonna need ’em,” a disciple sings in “Learn Your Lessons Well.”

The show comes alive with harmonious voices, vibrant costumes and energetic dancing, not to mention comedic moments and audience participation.

The AHS Theatre Troupe offers a grand display of talented acting, singing and dancing, led by the shining young star Joey Lanier as Jesus. At the risk of sounding cliche, Lanier does a perfect job of portraying the only perfect human to walk the earth. His charisma and magnetic smile combined with his melodious voice produce the leader needed to unite this group of very different people from all walks of life.

Lanier is flanked by the yin and yang of the disciples, Angelina Burcar as Judas, and Iven Brown as John the Baptist.

Burcar fulfills the prophecy by choosing to betray her mentor after following his lead and teaching beside him throughout their time together. She lures us in with her angelic voice, then reveals her dark side, all the while entertaining with poise and the stage presence of a pro.

On the other hand, Brown remains loyal and kind throughout his relationship with Jesus, and we can feel the sincerity in his voice as he sings. He deserves praise for his portrayal of a devoted friend and follower.

Rounding out the talented cast of AHS Theatre Troupe members are Olivia Gerhart, Lexie Lino, Jenna Peterson, Adriana Helinski, Logan DenBleyker (whose humorous dance segment is worth noting), Tori Eller and Ashlyn Schaedig.

TBT’s Emily Ahrens, Jordan Hand and Molly Stricker add a spark of comedic flair and amazing vocal talent. Ahrens and Stricker sing beautifully, and Hand hits high notes that many females couldn’t match.

Be ready for the audience participation portion of the program. You never know what’s going to happen!

Each cast member has something fun and interesting to contribute, as they come onstage representing various types of workers, from a waitress to a construction worker. They all have separate ideals, from an atheist to a devout Christian, but as they learn lessons from Jesus, they all come together.

“We all have ideals and ways of life that make up our belief systems,” Director Adrian Alexander states in the director’s note. “In this process of discovering what we believe in, we begin to close ourselves off to others, which leads to the divided world we are seeing today. … This show features characters from every walk of life that we see in our society. They start divided, separate, and drawn to solely to their comfort zones. You will see the change that comes when they begin to hear each other, see each other, love each other.”

Alexander expertly choreographed the show, full of spirited dancing to all genres of music. The production team includes Jacob Kerzner as music director, Cassandra Lentz as scenic designer, Eileen Thoma as costume designer, Chris Riley on lighting design, Tabitha Camp as production manager, Jenna Peterson and Lexie Lino as dance captains, Chris Riley as mixer, Lucas Moquin as spotlight operator, and Alexis Peterson and Nicolas Ciubanu on stage crew.

“Godspell” is showing at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday, and the final show is at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 per adult, $12 per teen 13 to 17, $8 per child 12 and younger, and $16 with military ID.

“Godspell” is sponsored by Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan.

Next weekend is “A Christmas Carol” for one weekend only, and tickets are going fast. Call the box office to reserve tickets at 989-354-2267.