Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Laurel Mill Playhouse Godspell

By • Mar 30th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Laurel Mill Playhouse
Laurel Mill Playhouse, Laurel, MD
$15/$13 Seniors and Students
Playing through April 19th
Reviewed March 28th, 2009

Godspell is a musical with book by John-Michael Tebelak, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. As his Director’s Notes (below), Michael V. Hartsfield says, many people who are familiar with Godspell know the movie best.

The musical play, which started life as a student thesis project, is based on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Theatrical producers adopted and enhanced the original, hiring Stephen Schwartz to rewrite the score for its off-Broadway run. Godspell went on to a 10-year run before moving to Broadway.

The play takes one of the oldest forms of theatre, the pageant “Mystery Play,” and marries its lessons to a contemporary musical score, making the parables into catchy modern-day illustrations for survival. The new music won Stephen Schwartz, also known for Pippin and Wicked, his first Grammy for Best Score From An Original Cast Show Album.

I was particularly interested in seeing the Laurel Mill Playhouse production of Godspell, being both very familiar with the show’s music and intrigued by what I’d heard about the performing space. I was happy to take the opportunity presented by this performance of the show, a perennial favorite with community, church and school groups.

The setting is the tiny back alley of any given inner city area you can name. Graffiti names adorn the brick walls, along with clothespin lines. The four-member band resides behind the chain link fence that plays a role in the show. Into this tiny space come eight philosophers, clamoring to be heard. When John the Baptist (Ed Higgins) blows his surprisingly loud whistle and tells them all “Prepare Ye,” the ten-character cast is complete.

Playing to a packed house, the ensemble (a mix of experienced and new performers) delivers their message with enthusiasm and joy. The members each get their moment in the lead. Highlights include “Day by Day” led by Robin (Christina Toner), “By My Side” (the only original piece of music to survive the score rewrite), led by Bri (Brianna Everett), “Turn Back, O Man” led by Sonia (Mary Retort-George). “Bless the Lord,” led by JoAnne (Samantha McEwen), brings down the house in a showstopper moment. Lamar (Marcus Brown), Herb (James Raymond) and Ziggy (Brian Binney) round out the ensemble admirably.

As John the Baptist, Edward Higgins takes the role of ringmaster to bring together this colorful circus, then steps aside until his shift to Judas, transformed. Jesus (Charles Freeman) certainly has exuberance for his role as teacher, though he could speak a bit clearer and louder. Even in the small space, several individual singers might have benefited from amplified sound. The acoustics are somewhat less than ideal. This could be chalked up to the acoustics of the space, especially in conjunction with the band, which, for the most part did a great job of avoiding overpowering the performances.

Regarding the technical aspects of the show: I really appreciated Mary Retort-George’s costuming choices. James Raymond and Michael Hartsfield provided a well-done set and lighting design, making the quirky space work for them. Godspell ran a little over two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

I found myself singing along to the show several times, and felt the ensemble performances to be well-choreographed throughout the show. In general, Michael V. Hartsfield (Director), Charles T. Hayes (Musical Director) and Kristen Rigsby (Choreographer) are to be commended for providing the audience with an entertaining and thought-provoking evening. If the opening night performance was any indication, you should reserve your tickets soon!

Director’s Note

What a wonderful show for the Easter season! Godspell has truly been a labor of love and it has been my honor to work with such a talented cast and crew. Like most, I was more familiar with the movie version of Godspell, rather than the actual show. As I read and re-read the script and listened to the music, I began to really see the genius of this show. Though Godspell loosely follows the Passion story of Jesus from the Gospels, at it’s heart, it is really about a group of individuals gradually coming together to form a community behind a common cause. Regardless of your personal faith, the idea of rallying together behind a cause greater than yourself is something to admire.

In a wonderful example of life imitating art, the process of bringing this production to life was really about forming a community as well. This amazingly talented and dedicated cast and crew worked at a break-neck speed and rallied around each other to ensure the best possible show was staged. I think when you see the fruits of their efforts, you will agree that the hard work and dedication have paid off!


  • Jesus: Charles Freeman
  • John the Baptist/Judas: Ed Higgins
  • Ziggy: Brian Binney
  • Lamar: Marcus Brown
  • Herb: James Raymond (Michael Baeder, 4/3-4)
  • Robin: Christina Toner
  • JoAnne: Samantha McEwen
  • Bri: Brianna Everett
  • Sonia: Mary Retort-George (Kristen Rigsby, 4/11-12)
  • Danni: Brittany Truske


  • Piano: Charles Hayes (Elaine Beckman, 4/2-4)
  • Bass: Will McLean
  • Guitar: Tom Tomlinson
  • Drums: Evander McLean (Wes Livingston, 3/29, 4/12, 4/19)


  • Director: Michael V. Hartsfield
  • Musical Director: Charles T. Hayes
  • Choreographer: Kristen Rigsby
  • Producer: Maureen C. Rogers
  • Stage Manager: Janet Olsen
  • Production Assistants: Andrew Wright, Karen Walters
  • Set Design: James Raymond, Michael Hartsfield
  • Set Construction: James Raymond, Michael Hartsfield, Calvin DaSilva
  • Set Painting: James Raymond, Michael Hartsfield
  • Light Design: Michael Hartsfield, James Raymond
  • Light and Sound Board Operators: Jeanette Brown, Shelby LaVigna, Tim Baeder
  • Sound Design: Michael Hartsfield, Charles Hayes, Alex Campbell
  • Costume Design: Mary Retort-George, Cast
  • Properties: Janet Olsen, Andrew Wright, Karen Walters, Cast
  • Special Effects: Andrew Wright
  • Set Decoration/Dressing: James Raymond, Michael Hartsfield, Cast
  • Programs: Michael Hartsfield
  • Publicity/Poster: Maureen Rogers, Ken Krintz
  • Hair/Make-Up: Cast
  • Head Shots/Bulletin Board: Brian Binney
  • House Manager: Norm Gordon
  • Box Office: Norm Gordon, Patti Knazik, Maureen Rogers, Volunteers
  • Website Design/Maintenance: Stewart Wills
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is founder and Artistic Director of OutOftheBlackBox Theatre Company (O2B2) and General Manager of the Greenbelt Arts Center. Since 2006 Betsy has worked as a director, producer, designer and more. Betsy has also worked with Washington Revels, Arena Stage, the now-defunct Harlequin Dinner Theatre and with community theatre companies both in Maryland and in upstate New York. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Technical Theatre from SUNY New Paltz. Through Hawkeswood Productions, Betsy produces archival performance videos and YouTube highlight spots.

One Response »

  1. I attended opening night and was delighted by the production! The space was small, but the intimate setting – and Mary Retort-George’s sashay through the audience at the start of Turn Back O Man – pulled us in as though we, too, were at the feet of Jesus. Most of the voices were strong with choreography that worked despite the crowded stage. The costuming, lighting and set design were top notch. The band – excellent! It was a thoroughly entertaining evening! Bravo, Laurel Mills Playhouse and cast!