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Theater Review: "Godspell" On Broadway

Katie Buenneke |
January 8, 2012 | 11:54 a.m. PST

Theater Editor


"Godspell," the 1971 musical by Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked") and John-Michael Tebelak, is not so much a traditional musical as it is a collection of Biblical parables set to music. The production currently playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway tries to make some sense of the scattered show, with varying success.

There's a vague storyline to "Godspell," which mostly follows a portion of the life Jesus (Corey Mach, at this performance) as outlined in gospel according to Matthew, but really, the show is more of a song cycle. The production, directed by Daniel Goldstein, is certainly at its best when it lets Schwartz's lush score speak (or sing) for itself, as in numbers like "Beautiful City" and "By My Side."

The rest of the time, the show sure is jubilant, but it has the unfortunate air of trying too hard to be happy and cheerful. It seems as though the show wants to emulate the happy-go-lucky sentiment of the recent Broadway revival of "Hair," but it doesn't quite succeed. There's a sense that everything is a bit forced—yes, it's cool that the cast is bouncing on trampolines onstage, but that doesn't negate the fact that it's a gimmick, much like many other elements of the show.

Each member of the cast is an incredibly talented singer, but there's no sense that anything is grounded in reality. The show feels like an extended skit from "Sesame Street" or some other educational TV show, as if it's saying, "Look, kids! Today we're going to learn about the Bible with fun songs!" The show goes for easy laughs so often that it almost becomes groan-worthy. The musical's book is challenging (the Biblical text can be particularly dense at times), especially when it comes to staging it contemporarily, but most of the time, the attempts to modernize it are a series of misfires.

Further confusing the show is the costume design, by Miranda Hoffman. It looks like the cast blindly dressed in a high school theater department's costume closet—surely, there's a purpose to this, but it's not apparent, and is quite perplexing.

The show is occasionally stunning, though. The lighting design, by David Weiner, is gorgeous, and does a great job of evoking the moods the show is trying to access. The songs are beautifully sung by the cast, and numbers like the aforementioned "Beautiful City" and the finale are astonishingly pretty in their simplicity.

"Godspell" is aggravating in its missed potential. With a cast this talented and such a lush score, it seems like the show could be greater than the sum of its parts, but as it is, it is regrettably uneven.

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