THEATER TALK: "Godspell" Revival Preview
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I just have to preface this by saying I don't particularly like "Godspell." I'm not a fan of religious musicals in general (exception: "The Book of Mormon"), and I find that 70s concept musicals can be pretty hit-or-miss, though that can be vary dependent on the direction (the recent revival of "Hair" that appeared at the Pantages and the revival of "Company" on Broadway with Raul Esparza are adaptations that I found worked quite well). However, I am entirely on board with the new trend of casting people with ridiculously amazing voices in revivals and presenting the songs in such a way that the sheer musical awesomeness entirely outweighs any flaws in the plot (see: "Hair"). Stephen Schwartz's ("Wicked," "Pippin") 1971 musical is a collection of songs that function as parables with Jesus guiding the audience through the show.
The new Godspell revival definitely seems to be following that trend, and that is totally fine by me. This footage from yesterday's press preview evidences that in spades. Lindsay Mendez, one of up-and-coming composer Ryan Scott Oliver's darlings (no pun intended) who has also appeared on Broadway in "Everyday Rapture" and "Grease" and in "The Marvellous Wonderettes" off-Broadway, gives a rousing rendition of "O Bless the Lord My Soul," giving it a contemporary sound. The choreography is very energetic and lends even more life to the song.
I'm not quite sure how I feel about "Good Samaritan" yet — it's a bit too beat poetry for my tastes, but it picks up further into the song. Celisse Henderson (making her Broadway debut after touring with "Wicked"), Morgan James ("Wonderland," "The Addams Family") and the company do bring a lot of energy to it, though, and it has been growing on me each time I watch it. The arrangements are quite lovely, so I look forward to seeing those more fleshed out throughout the entirety of the show. I don't quite understand the choreography, especially the bit with the ladder, but again, that may make more since when it's actually staged.
The last song we see is "All Good Gifts," sung by Telly Leung. Leung was one of the Warblers on "Glee" last season and also appeared as Angel in "Rent" for a while on Broadway and then again in the production at the Hollywood Bowl last summer. Again, the arrangement is quite nice, though the staging is perhaps too simple. While the song is a simple one and too much choreography would just muddle it, it verges on being boring staged as it is. However, this, too, may make more sense in the context of the show — if it's sandwiched between two more lively songs, then that should work fine.
Oddly quiet in this preview are Hunter Parrish and Wallace Smith, who play Jesus and John the Baptist/Judas respectively. They are physically present, but we don't get to see or hear much from them, which is kind of odd, as those are the two overarching characters in the show. Parrish (of "Weeds" fame) last appeared on Broadway as Melchior in "Spring Awakening," succeeding Jonathan Groff and Kyle Riabko in the role. I personally thought he did a great job, though his voice was pretty weak by the end of the run. Hopefully his voice has grown stronger in the two years that have passed since he started "Spring Awakening." Smith comes to "Godspell" from another rock musical, "American Idiot." He also has experience with the 70s concept musical, as he was in the revival of "Hair" (with Kyle Riabko, oddly enough). On an entirely different note, he was also in the revival of "Ragtime" and "The Lion King," so he definitely has a credible Broadway pedigree behind him. Jesus and Judas are pretty much the only characters that tie the story together, so the onus is on Parrish and Smith to keep the show from devolving into an unintelligible mess.
"Godspell" begins previews October 13 and opens November 7.
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