I recently discovered the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts while listening to the radio on the way to work. When I found out that they were doing an extended run of Godspell, I hastily signed on, excited at the prospect of seeing the musical that Westmont’s CC’s cafe (the fundraiser event for the college choir) did incredibly well in early 2007. Some friends and I also bought tickets for Ragtime, which I had never seen before, and the timing worked out so that we saw Ragtime on Saturday the 12th, which happened to be its opening night, and I saw Godspell the next evening on my way to Fresno from Santa Barbara for my vacation. After the shows I can definitely say that I am very impressed with the professionalism and talent of PCPA.

Ragtime tells the story of three families in America around the turn of the century during the immigration boom. One, a wealthy white family, comes into contact with the second, a broken black family, and through helping them reconcile with each other, the white family overcomes the stereotypes about people of color at the time, and is able to throw off some of the stereotypes inherent in the lingering patriarchal family system. The third family, an immigrant man and his daughter, struggle with reconciling the America they envisioned on the boat over and the America they find on the streets of New York. This is an intentionally vague and somewhat lackluster synopsis, as I’m rather opposed to giving away plot details (you never know what somebody might consider a “spoiler”, and if you want more information you can always check Wikipedia), but I hope it will provide enough insight into the show to encourage you to see it for yourself. And you definitely should- and at PCPA if you like, it’s playing until August 24. The music in this show is stunning and powerful, incorporating elements of ragtime (obviously), jazz, and typical showtunesy stuff (a very technical term). It does a great job of weaving the stories of the families together, provides some very humorous moments contrasting some very somber ones, and comes across with a wonderful message about the ugly reality of immigration and racism in early 20th-century America (although it could easily be applied to any time period), and possible ways to allay it.

Godspell is one of my top three musicals (and now that you’re curious, the other two are Les Misérables and probably Hairspray) and is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ragtime in terms of grandiosity and music style, but is on par with it in terms of intensity and emotion. The story is clearly more familiar, so I feel a bit better about divulging info about the show. Based on the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of Matthew, the show portrays the community built by Christ through the goofy antics of a bunch of clowns. Or kids in street clothes. Or rag-tag misfits dressed in whatever they had in their closets. One of the great strengths of Godspell (and of the gospel message itself) is its adaptability. It’s been updated from the seventies, but the quality of the show is still the same. The music is upbeat and ridiculously catchy, and the entire first act is comprised of parables and songs peppered with humor that ranges from self-referrential to downright silly. The second act understandably departure from the lightheartedness of the first, and depicts the turning of Judas and Christ’s betrayal and execution, and the response of his followers. I have to be honest and say that while the PCPA production was absolutely stellar, nothing competes with seeing your friends act out the beatitudes by playing charades on stage, and I found myself comparing the solo on “Turn Back, O Man” to Mary’s, wondering why this Judas wasn’t nearly as angsty as Michael Barrett, etc. Not that it was a bad show, by any means! I was definitely glad for the opportunity to revist this favorite. One thing to note is that some of the cast members of the two musicals were doing double duty and it was neat seeing their flexibility as actors moving from Saturday night’s show to Sunday’s.

The third musical I got to interact with was [Title of Show], which we listened to on the way to Ragtime on Saturday night. This was described by Brian as a “meta-musical”; a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. The show chronicles their three-week blitz at scripting, casting, and creating music for a musical to be showcased in the New York Musical Festival. The music on the cd was hilarious, inappropriate, and never took itself even remotely seriously (except when it did). Hopefully this will make it off of Broadway, because I definitely want to see it.

And there you have it, a trio of musicals in a duo of days. Later this week we’ll get some more serious things in here but for now I hope you’ve broadened your horizons to the wonderous world of musical theatre.