Sometimes, for various reasons, there are shows that you never get around to watching. A case in point for me is “Godspell” which has been around in various formats since 1971, including a 1973 movie version, but which somehow I’ve never actually managed to get up the interest to see. I suppose my main concern with the show was that it had a bit of a reputation for being a ‘hippy’ musical.
However, the latest production of “Godspell”, based on the 2011 Broadway revival, which started its UK tour at The Hackney Empire, completely goes to show that one shouldn’t go on reputation or one’s preconceived ideas in judging something. Originally composed by Stephen Schwartz (he of “Wicked” fame), “Godspell” is not a standard musical with a ‘normal’ timeline driven narrative. Instead, it is a series of stories and songs based on parables from the bible – mainly taken from the Gospel of St Matthew with a couple from St Luke – interspersed with traditional hymns updated with contemporary music.
Looking at the stage – five white chairs at the front, a bridge over the sides and back – it was fairly obvious that “Godspell” was not going to be relying on massive set changes to assist the action. When the cast came on to the stage, I was so relieved that there was not a kaftan or row of beads in sight. Instead, along with the black clad musicians and chorus, the stage was filled with a good looking group of people in contemporary clothing – everything from hoodies to business suits. The show opened with the prologue followed by ‘Tower of Babble’ with the cast making excellent use of mobile phones to get the point of the story across. And then on the gantry above, John the Baptist (Andy Abraham) appeared singing the opening to ‘Prepare Ye’ being joined by the rest of the performers, building the intensity of this moving song until the appearance of Jesus (Tom Senior) himself.
“Godspell” is an amazing show in so many ways. This revival is directed by Kenneth Avery-Clark who has given it a real rock concert vibe in its staging and lighting which works so well. There is lovely audience interaction and it would be impossible not to see how much the cast and crew are enjoying themselves as they go through the performance which is so contemporary that even the Meerkats make an appearance. One of the things I was impressed with is that at no time does the show feel as if it is trying to sell Christianity to the audience, and although it is humorous, indeed downright hilarious at times, the comedy is always appropriate and never sarcastic or taking the proverbial out of the stories themselves. This is indeed a show that I think won’t offend anyone with its treatment of the Bible.
Musical Director Russell Scott keeps the pace of the show moving perfectly and together with choreographer Richard Marcel ensures that the show is as compelling as it is entertaining. As well as Jesus and John the Baptist already mentioned, the principal cast (Leanne Jarvis, Mitch Miller, Jason Broderick, Jennifer Potts, Dominique Planter, Laura Mansell, Maeve Byrne and Robert Hannouch) take part in all the parables, acting out the various stories as Jesus tells them. My own favourite ‘the prodigal son’ where the fatted calf suffered so badly (but so funnily) to welcome the wayward child home. In addition, there is a backing choir, and the producers are using a different local one at each location of the tour. The Hackney Empire choir was the American Musical Theatre Academy and they really put their heart and soul into the performance setting a standard for the other 27 choirs to follow.
Ultimately, “Godspell” is a fantastic show that is flexible enough to be beautifully updated so that it is still as relevant today as it was when first produced and if you get the chance as ‘Day by Day’ (sorry, had to be done) it tours the UK, you should definitely get out and see it.
Review by Terry Eastham
Godspell in Concert – The UK Tour – Official Trailer
Godspell In Concert
The UK tour features a new, modern-day rock score packed to the heavens with favourites such as Light of the World, All Good Gifts and Day by Day. This timeless tale of friendship, loyalty and love has touched the hearts of countless theatregoers all over the world – and now UK theatre fans can join in the celebration as a spectacular ensemble is set to stir souls and raise spirits, aided by a full live band.
Monday 6th April 2015