MALIBU, Calif. — A choir of voices echoes through the hills of Malibu as the cast of “The Gospel at Colonus” holds nothing back. 

It’s enough to bring co-director Mark J.P. Hood to his feet. 

He knew his cast was talented from their original run at Court Theatre on Chicago’s South Side. But there’s something special about the Getty Villa.

“This space is literally this spirit,” he said, his face lit up with enthusiasm. “Like the show is filled with spirit… our actors bring their authentic spirit, their authentic selves, and they activate this space, but the space itself is what brings the show to life.”

What You Need To Know

  • Getty Villa Museum and Court Theatre are presenting "The Gospel at Colonus" as the 17th annual Villa Outdoor Classical Theater production

  • The show is a retelling of Sophocles’ "Oedipus at Colonus" featuring a score of gospel music

  • The production, directed by Charlie Newell and Mark J.P. Hood, has been reimagined with additional text, a new song and new arrangements

  • "The Gospel at Colonus" runs through Sept. 30

Hood knows all about bringing one’s authentic spirit to a performance. The first time he set foot in Los Angeles was when he was a contestant on The Voice, wowing the judges with unique and soul-stirring renditions of classic songs like “Stand By Me.”  

Since then the Windy City native has made the west coast his home.

“I found sun, sun, sun in Los Angeles,” Hood beamed. “I’m a Southside boy to the day I die. But I couldn’t do the cold anymore.”

The only time he’s looked back was when he got a call from Charlie Newell asking him to collaborate on a revival of “The Gospel at Colonus.”

The show is a musical version of Sophocles’ “Oedipus at Colonus.” It was created by Lee Breuer and Bob Telson in the 1980s, running first at Brooklyn Academy of Music and later on Broadway, but Newell knew Hood would breathe new life into it.

The cast of "The Gospel at Colonus." (Spectrum News/Tara Lynn Wagner)

“This man’s genius of how he’s taken the original score by Bob Telson and taken it to a whole other blessed place. I just want to acknowledge his extraordinary talents,” Newell said.

“I want to acknowledge his extraordinary talents,” Hood replied in mutual admiration.

The duo had originally intended to do the show a few years ago, but the production was delayed by the pandemic. Perhaps it was fated, because in the end, Newell says the timing is perfect.

“This was when it needed to happen,” he explained. “People need a place to feel community, feel redemption, feel the joy that this project creates.”

Granted, joy might not be the first word you associate with Oedipus, but this play tells the latter part of his story — a story Hood thinks audiences will relate to.

“We all got some Oedipus in us,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t do what he did, but we all got some Oedipus in us and we all are just on a journey for redemption.”

The show has been a journey for Shari Addison, too. She was first cast in the original world tour in 1990. At the time she was pregnant with her daughter Jessica Brooke Seals and says she went into labor on stage just a few days before the final performance. She now shares the stage with the same daughter in this revival. 

“It’s amazing that this has come full circle for me,” Addison marvelled. “Originally, when I started with Colonus, I sang the opening song that Jessica is singing in this show. And it’s one of those things that I guess Colonus music was the soundtrack for her growing up.”

And not just the music of Colonus, but Gospel music in general.

“We grew up singing in church,” Seals recalled of her South Side childhood. “My grandma, she was a directress [of the church choir] for years. And then you have my mom and then me now.”

“My mother always said do it like it’s your last time, for it just might be,” Addison added. “And that’s the work ethic that I believe both of us have been able to bring to this production. We’ve given it our all, given it everything we’ve got.”

She’s not exaggerating. At a rehearsal a few days before the first preview, Addison hit notes as high as the heavens in a voice that is truly a religious experience. 

(Spectrum News/Tara Lynn Wagner)

The mother-daughter team admits that this version of the musical differs from the soundtrack they’ve known for decades. In fact, LA audiences will be the first to hear an additional song written by Bob Telson that’s been added to the score. But the pair of ladies have nothing but praise for Hood and the changes he’s made.

“He gave it a facelift,” Addison explained, as her daughter echoed agreement. “And you know…something over time, it needs a good facelift. And this is a good facelift.”

“The Gospel at Colonus” is the Getty’s 17th annual Villa Outdoor Classical Theater production. Each year, they invite a theatre company to present a classic, often through a new or experimental lens. 

Court Theatre was last in the venue, which is modelled after ancient Greek and Roman theatres, in 2017 with a production of “Iphigenia in Aulis” and Newell considers the Getty Villa the destination for classical theatre on the West Coast.

This may not be their final stop. 

As Hood told the crowd at a meet and greet when the company first arrived in Malibu, they’ve taken the show west, so the only place left to go is back east… a hint that this true revival, as the cast calls it, may be ready for a Broadway revival in the future.

In the meantime, Hood hopes audiences will come sit under the stars, rejoice with the cast and leave filled with the spirit of redemption.

“You’ll really find a way to look inside yourself, to look at mistakes that you make, and say, like, I can find something at the end of this. There is light at the end of that tunnel,” he explained, adding, “When you add this story, and the spirit of these actors, combustion!”

To which Newell replied, “Amen to that.”