‘Godspell Junior’ hits high notes

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Register Bob Johnson
Jesus, portrayed by Skylar Strickler, is carried from the cross after his crucifixion in the final scene of “Godspell Junior.” The Iola Community Theatre show is Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center.

Simply put, Iola Community Theatre’s production of “Godspell Junior” is exceptional. But oh, the show deserves much fancier superlatives.
Director Richard Spencer has taken 10 young actors — four just 14 and only one as old as 18 — and created a professional production. The 80-minute show flows so well you yearn for a repeat performance the minute it concludes.
“Godspell,” first produced in the early 1970s, recalls the Gospel according to Matthew in song and dance, with messages from Jesus’ teachings and preordained crucifixion.
Skylar Strickler portrays Jesus and Kent Toland is John the Baptist and Judas. Others, all committed followers, are referred to as their real names.
Sets for the show have been as varied as companies performing it. “Junior” is done on the Bowlus Fine Arts Stage made to resemble a construction site, with scaffolding providing platforms that give emphasis to specific presentations. The Holy Land it isn’t, but by play’s end, Jesus’ crucifixion, accentuated by intense red lighting, sends a shiver up the spine.
The story begins with Jesus declaring his holy omnipotence. John the Baptist baptizes followers and then, at His insistence, baptizes Jesus.
Jesus preaches and teaches often in the show and He and others use parables to direct attention to the tenets of Christianity, which had its genesis in Jesus’ birth. He admonishes his followers to carry on with His teaching as the time of his death on the cross draws near.

SPENCER said earlier that he was fortunate to find 10 young people — by contract “Godspell Junior” can have no performers older than 18 — with voices as good as those in the cast.
His assessment was right on.
When Sabra Agguire belts out “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul” and “Light of the World,” with Reagan Webster chiming in, the Bowlus sound system nears overload. Agguire is the lone 18-year-old and she has a voice that can take her far if music is her choosing. Others have solo parts and all reach or exceed what songwriters expected.
Skylar Strickler sings “Save the People” and “We Beseech Thee” and then reaches touching and emotional pinnacles in a moaning finale as he hangs dying on the cross — the construction scene dictates he be chained to scaffolding, arms outstretched.
In addition to Strickler, Toland, Agguire and Webster, cast members are Jasmine Bannister, Jordan Strickler, Madison Ford, Cody Cokely, Drew Smith and Maggie Terhune. Each has his or her time at center stage; none disappoints.
The show is a roller coaster of emotion, from light moments that draw belly laughs to serious points prescribing love and forgiveness to the extreme intensity of the crucifixion.

THE SHOW will be staged Friday and Saturday nights starting at 7:30 and in a 2 o’clock matinee Sunday. Tickets, $12 for adults and $8 for students, are available at Sophisticated Rose in downtown Iola.
Joining Spencer in directorial chores are Kim Strickler with vocals and Liz Ulrich with choreography. Many others, listed in the program, gave of their expertise to bring the show together.