Musical by Stephen Schwartz from 1971 god magic was part of a movement to reinvent theatrical norms in the late ’60s and ’70s. The movement paralleled the hippies, free love, rock bands with classical orchestras, artists like Andy Warhol, and a variety of writers. It was a time of reexamination and rethinking of our ways of doing things, especially in the arts. god magic is one of the most enduring works of this period, depicting Jesus as a guy in a T-shirt, addressing modern people in a playground.
Many musicals are based on a book, however god magic is unusual because it is based on the Bible, primarily the New Testament book of Matthew. The “reinvention” is that the show is set up so that eight non-biblical characters encounter Jesus in a modern day playground. Through song and speech, Jesus teaches them the parables and other lessons about living together in love. There is no continuous plot or even an antagonist. Just nice people lovingly sharing thoughts of a good life. It’s the kind of show that will put a smile on your face for two hours.
For Palm Canyon Theater’s current production, director Richard Marlow, set designer Toby Griffin and costume designer Derik Shopinski have retained the early ’70s setting to complement the musical styles. Because viewers of a certain age have known songs from this show like “Day by Day,” “Prepare Ye,” and “A Beautiful City” for five decades, the show’s look is reminiscent of when we first heard these memorable songs, and the modernization would have been a jerk.
In the 1971 stage production and the 1973 film, the eight non-biblical characters were of different ages. For the PCT production, Marlow has shifted his cast to the late teens to late 20’s, and this choice is consistent with his presentation style full of enthusiasm, energy and joy.
At the head of the troupe is Noah Arce as Jesus. This young actor has performed in most theaters in the valley. He is tall, good looking, sings well, plays even better and plays guitar on stage. And did I mention he’s good-looking? He displays a radiant charm and a never-wavering smile that would easily make students follow him.
Also outstanding is Raul Valenzuela (another Valley favorite), who serves as both John the Baptist and Judas. Singing, dancing, acting and energy make him a joy to watch and listen to. Another entertaining soloist was Jonathan Calderon (at least I think it was Jonathan – the characters don’t refer to each other by name). He not only shone with his solo “All Good Gifts”, but mostly had main positions in the dance numbers, often paired with the choreographer Marella Sabio. Speaking of Marella, besides designing the lively dance sequences, she also had a perfect approach to the folksy “day by day”.
One of the joys of the production was a twist added by Marlow. At the beginning of the show, one of the company members presents a lanky 12-year-old boy, Everett Nickolopoulous, with a Superman T-shirt. The boy puts on the shirt and then, through a little theatrical sleight of hand, transforms himself into Noah Arce, the young adult Jesus. We remember that Jesus first showed signs of being special when he was 12, then we didn’t hear much from him until he was 30. This young actor continues to perform on stage, moving sets and passing props to other actors. He then sings alongside the adult Jesus towards the end of the show, and his voice and comfort at the center are promising. Fortunately, the next year he was accepted into the Valley’s prestigious Music Theater University.
Jaci Davis, who conducts from the piano, took over the musical direction. When I walk into a theater and see her at the piano, I breathe a sigh of relief. I know that everything musical will go smoothly. She is joined by David Bronson on drums and Bill Saitta on bass.
god magic only runs for one more weekend, July 14th to 17th. Thursday is at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $36 for adults, $32 for seniors, and $15 for students. In fact, if you have children or grandchildren this would be an excellent production to spoil them; a melodic captivating life lesson.
Season tickets for the exciting 26th season of PCT are available on their website, as are dates for upcoming productions. For tickets, sponsorship opportunities, or other information, call the PCT Box Office at (760) 323-5123 or order online at www.PalmCanyonTheatre.org. The Palm Canyon Theater is located at 538 North Palm Canyon Drive, on the corner of Alejo Road and Palm Canyon Drive. Cash desk opening times are currently Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m