My musical alma mater, Reading Operatic Society (ROS), have been on an extraordinary theatrical voyage since they were first founded in 1950 by Mr Archibald Lusty. Back then and more recently, under the tender tutelage of John and Jill Lawes, they favoured rousing Gilbert & Sullivan and operetta style productions which I have had the pleasure of participating in, my first show being Salad Days at the same theatre back in 1974!
But now they tend towards the contemporary, and last week they raised the rafters of the Kenton Theatre with Stephen Schwartz’s rock musical Godspell (directed by the super-charged Andy Camichel with moving musical direction by Bridget Biggar and spirited choreography by Delun Jones).
A white-clad trumpeteer and exuberant, clapping chorus welcome us joyously, with explosive party streamers and water pistols. Vibrant splashed of colour are added to the white purity, as the company launch into this upbeat Broadway revival version with playful and contemporary twists to the dialogue (indeed, young people probably did not use Facebook back then!)
Against a simple grid, atmospherically lit, the talented cast of 13 are led by the radiant Ajani Cabey, mischievously compelling as Jesus, as they build their city on stage amidst gladsome graffiti. The divinely diverse band of disciples razzle-dazzle us with sassy Chorus Line routines, high octane rock and mesmeric musical numbers; there is even high speed roller skating (from the sequinned Charley) and a Waitrose trolley dash!
The angelic band of musicians can be glimpsed through the metallic backdrop as they musically power this production and the endearing Stanley swaps uke for electric guitar then keyboard, as he and the gutsy Charley serenade us delightfully at half-time.
Starkly contrasting with the joyous tableau of parables, act two is bathed in red and black decadence, featuring a satin clad nightclub crooner and sleazy, posturing chorus girls, straddling chairs in Cabaret style.
Chris Reddington, the benevolent John the Baptist, now exudes chilling menace as Judas, with powerhouse vocals. He and his sinister grey clad conspirators denounce Jesus to driving guitar riffs against a blood red backdrop. After the almost unbearably poignant By my Side, a hush descends on the auditorium as the end approaches
Suddenly, the stage is flooded with redeeming light, to the life-affirming strains of the entire company singing We can build a City.
Thank you Reading Operatic Society for a truly inspiring and uplifting evening it was good to be back!
ROS’s Godspell production has finished; their next one will be Little Shop of Horrors at the Kenton Theatre in March 2020.