Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Introduction To Godspell

I've been really excited for Godspell basically since it was announced. Many of the cast members (Lindsay Mendez, Hunter Parrish, Nick Blaemire, etc.) have impressed me in other shows. I was fascinated by the People of Godspell and whether a community-produced Broadway musical could be a success for everyone involved. I love the show's social media campaign (see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly) and the idea of a backstage lottery. I think one reason I put off seeing it for so long (the show opened November 7 at the Circle in the Square Theatre) was that I was afraid I wouldn't actually like it (I'm somewhat of an anomaly among theater fans as I've never seen or been in Godspell). I was mostly right--Godspell just isn't my kind of show--but I'm glad I finally saw it and I'm glad it was this production.

Godspell premiered off-Broadway in 1971. The musical with a score by Stephen Schwartz is based on the Gospel of St. Matthew and was originally conceived by book-writer John-Michael Tebelak as a thesis project. The actors--dressed as hippie clowns--use their real names except for Jesus (Hunter Parrish in this production) and Judas and John the Baptist (Wallace Smith) and act out parables. After an introduction with the cast dressed in suits, talking on cell phones and carrying briefcases with names like "L. Ron Hubbard," the show becomes thrilling as Smith sings the a cappella opening of "Prepare Ye" and is joined by the band and cast. But the joy of that first number gives way to dizzying scenes (Daniel Goldstein directs) and dated and unfunny pop culture references. Audience members occasionally are asked to participate in games like Pictionary and charades. It may seem like this show would be up my alley since I was such a huge fan of Hair, but the audience participation in that show seemed a more natural fit, and with the Godspell update, it was unclear why they were acting like hippies. Also, I felt an emotional attachment to the story in Hair, whereas here, to be honest, I didn't know what was going on half the time. I'm sure a lot of it is because I'm Jewish and did not grow up with any of these stories.

It's almost like I was watching two shows. If most of the book scenes were cut out, I might have loved it. The music is infectious and this cast can sing, especially Lindsay Mendez and Uzo Aduba. Towards the end, the show takes a turn for the serious, and a curious thing happened, I started to like it. From Parrish's "Beautiful City" to the crucifixion, all that silliness gives way to something simple and lovely. As morbid as this may sound, I felt the show ended on a high note and I left the theater thinking more about the positive aspects of the production than the negative. I probably never need to see a production of Godspell again, but I'll continue to enjoy the other show--the new marketing strategies, such as the Tuesday Night Talkbacks announced this week, which will feature a different cast member each week speaking about their experience in the show from audition stories to nightly routines.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel

1 comment:

Mel (Two Show Days) said...

There's no way I'm going to see this. But Uzo Aduba needs to be in everything ever.