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Review of Godspell in Concert at the Hackney Empire

Godspell at Hackney empire
Cast of Godspell – Photo by Barren Bell

Although I’m a great fan of Stephen Schwartz’s later work, his earlier productions don’t thrill me. Children Of Eden and Pippin are not so much to my taste, and never having been very interested in biblical stories, the content of Godspell has never excited me much. However, always one to keep an open mind, I headed off to Godspell really wanting to enjoy this brave new version, performed in concert style for the first time ever. And I found that I did.

This version is fronted by singers made famous by ‘The X Factor’ and ‘The Voice’, namely Andy Abraham, Leanne Jarvis and Mitch Miller, along with seven other musical theatre performers. Backing them are a choir of students from AMTA (The American Musical Theatre Academy), for the London leg of the run only, as this tour is taking the initiative of selecting a choir locally in every region it visits. This is a very sensible marketing tool and will surely keep the show very fresh as it travels the country.

There was some impressive singing to be enjoyed, the most exciting of which I found to be care of Tom Senior, in the lead role of Jesus, and Maeve Byrne, with a single solo in Act 2 but showcasing some real showstopping vocals. Strong performances from Jennifer Potts, Laura Mansell and Leanne Jarvis added to the vocal prowess of the leading players. The ten lead singers worked very well together, had a great energy on stage and delivered some thrilling harmonies throughout. There were augmented by the young, enthusiastic AMTA choir, trained for the show by Grant Martin, who were extremely energetic and seemed to be having a thoroughly marvellous time on stage, which always makes it more enjoyable for the audience. Harmonies were tight and the general musical sound was good. The new orchestrations are fresh and modern, and were well executed by the on-stage band, led by Musical Director Russell Scott.

As I said, I don’t care much for biblical stories, and I’d be lying if I said I really understood what was going on in the dialogue sections – I probably didn’t try hard enough if I’m honest. It all seemed rather anachronistic, with Jesus taking selfies and a lot of the dialogue being brought right up to date with current social references galore. It can’t be denied, however, that the music is rousing and feel-good, and even if the content was not to my taste, the score is almost guaranteed to have you clapping along by the end.

The production, staged by producers Russell Scott and Mark Pettitt, is striking – a fixed scaffold set is brought to life by a spectacular arena-style lighting design with some 300 moving lights, and the ensemble dancing all over the set in brightly coloured costumes brought the potentially stark scenery to vivid life.

This musical may not be a favourite of mine, but I find myself really hoping that this tour does well. It’s clear that such a lot of love and passion has gone into the creation of this outing of the show, from the producers, who clearly feel honoured to have been granted the rights to tour a show they love so much; to the extremely enthusiastic cast who pour their souls into their performances. I’m sure the touring audiences will gratefully receive the rousing gospel themes and exciting vocal performances on offer.
4 stars

Review by Nikki Laurence

By permission of Stephen Schwartz, composer of Wicked and Pippin, Russell Scott and Mark Pettitt for Godspell in Concert UK Ltd will produce the 12 week UK tour, which features the Broadway revival score. Kenneth Avery-Clark directs the production which was critically lauded at its London performance and Russell Scott, Musical Director is at the helm of the show’s spectacular new orchestration.

Monday 6th April 2015


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