Godspell, the 1970s religious rock'n'roll musical that put the Matthew Gospels on the stage, has been rewritten, re-grooved and generally brought up to date for this brand spanking new revival for a new millennium.
Every successful production needs its stars and, not wanting to disappoint, this Godspell also offers up a brace of up-to-the-moment celebrities to take turn-and-turn-about in the complementary roles of Jesus and Judas. There's Joel from Neighbours (Daniel MacPherson as he's known in the flesh) and Robbie Williams' best mate, Jonathan Wilkes.
All very audience-pleasing, of course, especially when the boys take their tops off for their bows at the end - a moment that is completely and unashamedly incongruous with the Christian message of humility which has gone before. And for an amount of applause which is incongruous with the pair's input to the production.
Because when it comes to performance, this is one of those shows where the chorus completely outshines the stars. MacPherson and Wilkes do their routines slickly, their audience asides are eminently professional and the newly inserted modern references work wonderfully well. But they simply don't seem comfortable in the big singing and dancing routines and certainly would not have earned a place in the ensemble on merit. Unlike Clare Buckfield, Natalie Tapper and Isabella Jade Fane who are completely at ease in smaller roles.
Not that the other members of the ten-strong ensemble are ill at ease in any way. Godspell allows everyone their moment of solo glory and there are few falters, if any, as snatches of house, r'n'b and drum'n'bass give the old tunes some pumping new rhythms. For the record, Daniel Thomas has quite the most memorable voice, with a vocal style that oozes honey as it jumps up the octaves, and Adam Boland puts in the best body-popping dance routines, providing some of the most entertaining moments of physical comedy.
The original Godspell was with-it and happening and the updates work well, apart from a rather clunky opening sequence of texting and internet chat-room conversation.
If the new technology works, the original bits work better. "Day by Day", "Turn Back Oh Man" and "All for the Best" are still great tunes and it is still the skill of the singers that makes them memorable.
- Thom Dibdin (reviewed at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre)