By Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak. Hills Musical Theatre Company. Model Farms High School. Nov 3 – 11, 2017.
Husband and wife team John Brown (director) and Sue Brown (musical director), with choreographer Laurie Tancred, give this 2012 update of the musical a contemporary feel. Set in front of the safety fences of a construction site, with the cast in modern casual gear, the parables of the New Testament take a moralistic jump into the 21st century.
The production is bright without losing the pathos of the final scenes – and the large cast is in every moment. The voices are strong, the harmonies carefully rehearsed, and there is a sense of ensemble unity that is a tribute to the production team.
Leading the cast, Jeff Fisher finds both the teacher and friend in Jesus. His powerful yet carefully modulated voice and sensitive portrayal establishes a rapport with the ensemble that takes them ‘Day by Day’ to the ‘Beautiful City’ and the promised possibility of ‘All Good Gifts’!
Jonathan Barons ‘prepares the way’ for him as John the Baptist, and later betrays him as Judas, in between times supporting the ensemble as the parables are enacted. Barons’ voice lends depth and power to the production, as do those of Greg Wood, Alan Phillips, Jeremy Barons and Stephen Ollis.
Bernadette Sinclair, Fiona Brennan, Leanne Mordini, Linda Laoulach, Renee Bechara, Suzanne Chin, Sally Brown, Bec Robb and Bethany Marfleet take on the female roles and lead the enthusiastic members of the chorus.
The singing and the simple but effective choreography are the highlights of this production and could stand on their own as an ‘in concert’ performance. The telling of the many parables is, unfortunately, a little didactic, despite the attempt to dramatise them in actions that are quite unsubtle and undignified at times.
Nevertheless, they are compensated by the quality of the singing, the vitality of the ensemble and the rocky backing of the musicians.