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Godspell, the joyous and often poignant musical from Grammy- and Oscar-winning composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin), based on the Gospel of St. Matthew, needs little introduction today, but when it debuted Off Broadway in 1971, it broke new ground in its treatment of the historical Jesus. The current revival goes even further in the groundbreaking department. In fact, it’s a Godspell for a new generation.
One of the show’s advertising catch phrases is “Spread the love!” It easily does that. Forty years ago, it began touching the hearts of countless theatergoers, and now it will continue to do so.
Daniel Goldstein’s production, based on John-Michael Tebelak’s original concept, is ultra-contemporary, packed with very-today jokes and social media mentions, such as Facebook (and references to the “tablet” aren’t the ones the 10 commandments were written on), and any number of public figures -- including Donald Trump, Bernie Madoff, and the late Steve Jobs. In addition, the show’s a visual feast (you can’t miss the variety of chandeliers hung throughout the theatre), audience-friendly, and very appealing to children from grammar school on up -- which makes it a perfect family show not only for the holidays but also beyond.
The 10-member, contagiously energetic cast has a rousing good time, hamming it up as they roam the in-the-round Circle in the Square Theatre and interact with audience members (even bringing a couple onstage to become part of the show).
Hunter Parish, in the role of Jesus as an Everyman hero, was most recently seen on Broadway in the hit musical Spring Awakening. He also co-starred for eight seasons as Mary-Louise Parker’s son in a very different kind of show, Showtime’s groundbreaking Weeds, where he definitely wasn’t emulating Jesus. Who knew he would turn out to also be such an excellent showman, dancer, and singer?
Parish is ably supported by an incredible cast of singer/actors, including Wallace Smith (Judas), who is no stranger to Broadway, having played major roles in Green Day’s American Idiot, Ragtime, Hair, and The Lion King.
Overall, the infectiously engaging ensemble -- Uzo Aduba, Nick Blaemire, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Celisse Henderson, Morgan James, Telly Leung, Lindsay Mendez, and George Salazar -- is a United Nations’ Who’s Who of seasoned young performers, all of whom have standout moments.
Then there’s the soft-rock score, which has kept Godspell alive and well through the years in the minds and hearts of theatergoers and music lovers. The musical’s most famous tune, the vibrant “Day By Day,” reached #13 in 1972 on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart.
“The popularity of the record helped make the show a bigger hit,” recalls Schwartz. “At one point, there were 10 companies playing simultaneously in the U.S., plus productions in London, Paris, Australia, South Africa and Germany.”
Vibrant new orchestrations throughout revitalize the score that includes such well-known tunes as “Prepare Ye,” “Turn Back, O Man,” “Learn Your Lessons Well,” “We Beseech Thee,” and “Light of the World.” The six-man band, under the direction of Charlie Alterman, with its three guitar players sitting among the audience, sounds more like a full orchestra.
Choreographer Christopher Gattelli (Lincoln Center’s South Pacific revival, Roundabout Theatre’s Sunday in the Park With George revival) provides plenty of movement in an amazing variety of styles, including soft-shoe, rhumba, hip-hop, the Texas Two-Step, and even some cool trampoline action.
There’s hardly a dull moment during the irresistibly light and breezy first 90 minutes, as Parish and the cast recall parables, such as the one about the Good Samaritan, from the Gospels (including St. Luke’s) while the latter part of the musical turns quite affecting and reverent with memorable tableaux beginning with the last supper, Judas’ betrayal, and the moving crucifixion finale.
Godspell is playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre, W. 50th St. btw. Broadway & Eighth Ave. For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or click here.
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