Godspell, last seen on Broadway in the early 1970s, is back on Broadway and it is a joyful time at the theater.
Playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre, at Broadway and 50th Street, the play tells the story of Jesus Christ and his Disciples and the life lessons that he taught them. Godspell does not preach to the audience. Instead, it engages the audience with creative humor and a mix of genres — hip-hop, vaudeville and classic Broadway musical form. It is a masterpiece, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, who was also part of the creative team for Pippin and Wicked. Conceived and originally directed by the late John-Michael Tebelak, the current production is directed brilliantly by Daniel Goldstein, with excellent choreography by Christopher Gattelli.
Godspell offers a Broadway-show experience like no other, with many moments of sheer fun. The audience is encouraged to sing along with the cast and clap their hands to such beloved songs and hymns as “Day by Day,” “Prepare Ye” and “Bless the Lord.” The cast is superb, featuring Hunter Parrish as a kind, caring Jesus intent on guiding his flock. Three African-Americans are in the cast: Uzo Aduba, Celisse Henderson and Wallace Smith. Smith has two co-starring roles as John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot. He is particularly powerful as Judas. He opens the show with a riveting rendition of “Prepare Ye [the way of the Lord].” He plays various other roles, as do all of the members of the ensemble.
Aduba has a stunning vocal instrument that she utilizes throughout the production in her many funny and challenging roles. To the delight of the audience, one of her roles is Donald Trump, who is used to portray the rich man in the biblical story of a wealthy man who treated his servant badly in life. The servant dies and is welcomed and pampered in Heaven, while the “Donald Trump” dies and is tortured in hell. Henderson makes an outstanding Broadway debut with her beautiful voice and natural stage presence. The rest of the cast give equally memorable performances: Telly Leung, Lindsay Mendez, Morgan James, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Hannah Elless, Eric Michael Krop, Corey Mach, Nick Blaemire, George Salazar and Julia Mattison.
Godspell is replete with political humor at the expense of the Republican Party. It is also both moving and rousing theater, with trampolines, water for baptism, and a cast that is having so much fun that the audience is caught up in their exuberance. Set in the present, the script draws connections between parables from The New Testament and the apparent turmoil in the Republican Party. Members of the live band are positioned at different points in the theater, instead of being grouped together. Cast members interact with the audience as they enter the theater down several different aisles before converging on the stage.
The show is backed by several business institutions, as well as by a dedicated group of individual investors — a first for a Broadway show — that calls itself The People of Godspell. Each of these individuals invested about $1,000 in the show and could see a hefty payback, based on audience response so far.