By Gary Murray
Starring Jake Stern and Graham Parkhurst
Book by John-Michael Tebelak
Music and New Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Directed by David Hogan
Godspell was a 1970’s musical that is based on the Gospels of Luke and Mark. As a part of the Jesus Hippie movement, the play presented a fresh aspect to presenting the words of the Savior to the masses. There have been many revivals of the play over the years and the latest makes it way to the Winspear Opera House as a part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center Lexus Broadway Series.
The work starts with the ensemble doing a prologue. They are dressed in common, everyday clothes representing modern every-man. On the sides of the stage is a tight five piece rock band. The center stage is a painted stained glass riser and the backdrop is also a series of risers with another stained glass backing. The minimal staging puts the focus directly on the cast. The cast consists of 10 members but most are not given a character name. Except for Jesus (Jake Stern) and Judas/John (Graham Parkhurst), the rest of the cast is listed as Ensemble.
After the opening, the cast changes into flamboyant costumes that resemble something from The Little Rascals. It makes the cast come across more as innocent children who want to ‘put on a show’ with their new friend Jesus. The ensemble pulls audience members on stage, having them play games with the cast. It becomes a part of the major comic relief and there is a manic energy to the proceedings.
The big number from Act I is “Day By Day” a song that still stands-up decades later. It became a hit by The Fifth Dimension and is still a staple on oldies radio. Rebecca McCauley gets the solo and makes it her own. Under her voice, this is the biggest highlight of the entire play. She has a perfect pitch and a warm timbre.
In this re-imaging of the work there are many modern references. The ensemble makes fun of Donald Trump and Lindsey Lohan as the parables of Jesus are presented. Stacy Kay gets to mug to the audience more than once as she milks the script. The first act has the most humor and runs along with a manic clip.
The Second Act takes a more serious turn. It is going to be the death of Jesus, with the last supper and the resurrection. The lights come down and the mood is definitely darker. The ensemble realizes that they are a part of something very serious.
In Act II Jake Stern (as Jesus) gets his solo moment with “Beautiful City” which becomes the highlight of the act. He has a pure and solid voice that fills the hall with tenderness. It is a shining moment for the actor. The audience wants more from him and it is a shame that he does not have more solos.
The play ends with a reprise of “Day by Day” and a joyful song and dance. The cast moves and shakes, showing little fatigue after almost three hours on stage. There are almost no moments where the entire ensemble is not on stage and it is an exhausting experience.
Godspell does not have the nostalgia of Hair or the over the top spectacle of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat. It is a interesting night at the theater but the play does not hold up in the 21st century as much as other works generated at that time. The cast saves the play from being a mundane experience.