Like lots of kids in my generation, I grew up listening to the songs of Godspell. Even all these years later, I remember just about every word to every song. But until last week, I hadn’t ever seen the show.
Godspell first appeared on stage in 1971 at a time when churches were losing people faster than Tweeters lose Klout. It was a very 1970’s response to the problem: make Christianity fun. Make it hip. Make it youthful and accessible. And it worked so well that today, there are lots of copy cats using the same formula: Christian Rockers, Christian Rappers, Christian everything that used to un-religious in the art and music world.
So is there room for a Christian musical? Well, yes and no.
The performances are terrific. The young, energetic cast is working so hard at having fun it’s palpable. SEEing them work at it is exhausting. They’re trying very hard. Maybe too hard? Still, the energy level is impressive, and their talent is too. Standouts include Uzo Aduba who sings By my Side in a voice eerily like Tracy Chapman’s, Wallace Smith, as Judas, with charisma enough for ten men, (my daughter thought he should have played Jesus) and Lindsay Mendez’s Bless the Lord showed off a serious set of lungs! That girl can sing! They decided to cast a pretty surfer boy type – Hunter Parrish – as Jesus – which I found disconcerting, but that’s just me. And maybe it’s just me again – but I didn’t think he had the star power to carry the show – much less to inspire so much devotion. Talented? Yes. That talented? Meh.
The music is as catchy, bouncy and hummable as ever. The set minimal and clever. The book…well. It’s scripture. And that’s where the trouble came in: I don’t want to listen to scripture. Just not my bag. True there’s enough music to help you push past it. And some innovative staging to distract you from the the fact that you’re being sermonized. Still, it feels less like a musical when they’re talking than what I would imagine a hipster Church service to be like.
My two Bar Mitzvah bound kids were mostly confused by it. They know who Jesus is – and they got plenty of the teachings – but they don’t know about Judas, or Mary Magdalene, or any of the rest of the story of his life and death. And if you don’t know that, it’s a bit confusing. They loved the singing, and that they were allowed on stage during intermission — even it it was, symbolically, to take communion. (Grape juice!). And I loved the modernized references to pop culture – including texting and Facebook, and even Donald Trump.
I just kind of wished it had all been not so…pedantic when they stopped singing and started talking. It’s a fault in the play rather than the production. I’d rather see the musical without the dialogue. The songs, as should all songs in a musical, really do propel the story. And for my Jewish, half-atheist self, that would have been more than enough.
Still – great music, talented cast, innovative direction — not half bad for a forty year old show that’s been resurrected for modern consumption.
Godspell opens tonight at Circle in The Square Theater on Broadway. (at 50th St.)
If you’d like to see it, Get tickets using Discount Code: GSMDR79
$79.50 / $89.50 (Sat Eves)
Certain black-out dates apply
Valid through 12/23/11:
Disclosure: I received tickets to Godspell in exchange for a review.