Pitched in a bland no-man's land halfway between Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar but lacking the drama of the latter and the sheer joy of the former, Godspell looks embarrassingly dated and twee 40 years on. Despite some pleasing stage pictures and striking choreography, Michael Strassen has failed to work the magic here that made his Assassins and Company at this address so thrilling. Stephen Schwartz's score is undeniably melodic but the ritualistic book and concept proves simultaneously childish and bewildering. The cast sing well but fail to project much personality or charisma (something of an achievement in such a small space surely) and the attempts at updating the material (sanctioned in the script) prove embarrassingly unfunny. All in all, this is a huge disappointment given Strassen's earlier triumphs though, in fairness, nobody short of God could make this material work. - ajh
03 May 11
Just as we were moving on from our hippie phase as the 60′s turned into 70′s, along came a few biblical musicals Ė two by Andrew Lloyd-Webber & Tim Rice and this one from Wickedís Stephen Schwartz Ė which applied a hippie style, perhaps in an attempt to Ďget down with the kidsí. Some found them refreshing and others embarassing. I was in the embaressing camp. Forty years have passed and I think weíve only had one more (major) biblical musical Ė Children of Eden, also by Schwartz, making it 2-2.
Itís an edited version of the Gospel According to Matthew, so thereís no point in outlining the story. It does have a few good songs, notably Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord and Day by Day, but a lot of mediocre ones. I think Beautiful City was added after the original production; in any event, itís a mistake to end the show with it as the preceeding Finale is much more powerful.
Director Michael Strassen presented wonderful stripped bear productions of Sondheimís Company and Assassins at the same theatre, and he applies a similar approach here. Unfortunately, Schwartz isnít Sondheim. Iíve never been that fond of his music; itís melodic but lacks variety and subtlety. It often assaults you relentlessly with bland pop tunes in an attempt to beat you into submission. I didnít even like Wicked. Iím also not a believer. So if you did and / or you are, please donít rely on my view.
As it happens, I admire the production. Theyíve dumped the hippie shit and play it in modern street cloths with no set, leaving the excellent lighting by Steve Miller to create the atmosphere. The opening is great, with lovely lighting effects, the cast dressed in black all waking up and Jesus entering in his crash helmet Ė this is the Union Theatre, so they couldnít stretch to a motorbike; if it had been an ALW West End revival, no doubt it would have been a bejewelled Harley Davidson!
Though they occasionally forget how small the space is and begin shouting, resulting in even less subtlety, the singing (and acting) is uniformly good. Billy Cullum is a charismatic Jesus and Davis Brooks does well playing a sympathetic John the Baptist and an unsympathetic Judas. The synthetsised voice of god is a mistake as you canít understand his message Ė unless that was the point.
If youíre fond of musicals and this has passed you by or if youíd like to see how it shapes up 40 years on or if youíre a Schwartz fan, this is the place to go. Good production, pity about the show. - Gareth James
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