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Godspell Musical Makes a Glorious Second Coming to Broadway

by Rich and Laura Lynch

Godspell the musical is back and on Broadway! The original production landed on the Great White Way in 1976 and enjoyed a year and a half run. The new undertaking has teamed up with the heralded composer of Wicked and Pippin for a magical and memorable retelling of the gospel story of Christ.

Experience the Godspell Revival on Broadway

The original play by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak melded Biblical parables, music, stories and traditional hymns. The updated version still includes these elements and the timeless tales of friendship, love and loyalty. The format is family friendly and appealing to a wide audience.

We attended an evening performance of Godspell at The Circle in the Square Theater (1633 Broadway & 50th Street ) in New York City on Friday, February 3, 2012. The venue was intimate with a wooded circular stage in the center enclosed in the round by seats on all sides. The setup was stark and simple. Musicians were mixed in among the audience adding to the effect that everyone was part of the play.

The show began promptly at 8 p.m. with a lady talking away on her cell phone. She is joined by others also absorbed with their technology. All are carrying bags with names of philosophers such as Socrates or L Ron Hubbard scribbled on a pizza box. Their voices babble over each other reaching a cacophony as cast members try to climb a ladder to prove the righteous ascent of their own thought. Eventually, the baggage and cell phones are thrown down in disgust and frustration.

Soon, a new doctrine appeared when a trumpet was heard. John the Baptist (Wallace Smith) sang "Prepare Ye" in a rich and prophetic voice heralding the arrival of Christ. Trap doors on the stage opened and a pool of water was revealed where some are baptized as John speaks of retribution. Jesus (Hunter Parrish) appears in white and is washed by John as the rest of the actors return in different colorful costumes to dance and sing a joyful "Save the People". A rack of clothes was wheeled out for Jesus to pick an outfit for the show.

Hunter chose some green corduroys and a blue baseball jersey with the team name "Co-Pilots" with the appropriate #1 on the back. This is just one element of the show that appears to change on a nightly basis allowing for spontaneity in the individual performances. Parrish turned downed wearing the equally fitting "Superman" T-shirt which some in the crowd cheered for.

"Day by Day" started out soft building momentum as cast members moved among the crowd encouraging folks to clap along. Godspell was interactive with people picked from the seats to participate on stage. As Jesus tells a parable modern references such as Facebook are mixed into the dialogue. When Jesus speaks about angels it is joked that they are now using iPads because Steve Jobs is up in heaven.

For the story of Lazarus and the rich man, Donald Trump was the example and his hell was staying in a Hilton that he referred to as a dump. When he asked if Lazarus could return to the earth to warn his family - a long list of Trump properties were cited as to where they may be found.

The Sermon on the Mount also included modern humor such as Sheen's "winning" combined with an animated "Light of the World". The first act closed with an invitation to join the cast for a communion of grape juice on the stage.

Act Two opened with the saucy "Turn Back O Man". More parables and preaching were mixed into song and dance numbers. The betrayal of Jesus was alluded to as they sang the hopeful "Beautiful City". The trap doors are opened again to serve as a table for the last supper and later a plank is lowered from above the stage as the crucifixion of Jesus neared.

Hunter Parrish was elevated above the stage and rotated a full 360 degrees as "The Finale" unfolded with dramatic music and lighting. As Jesus was lowered from the cross many in the audience were visibly moved.

The troop - including a now resurrected Jesus - returned to the stage for a bow receiving warm applause for their energized performance. Parrish informed the crowd that this evening was the ensemble's 100th performance. He enthused how much they really loved this show and considered the crowd the 11th cast member. He implied that many in the audience had been there before and thanked fans for their support. In honor of the special occasion attendees were given a red velvet cupcake adorned with the Godspell logo upon exiting the theater.

If one goes to see Godspell more than once there will be elements of surprise each night. Audience members sitting on pillows in the front of the stage are chosen to assist the cast in a variety of scenes. This creates improvisation depending on their name and reactions. On the 100th show a man named Oliver helped out and the cast shrewdly sang a few bars from that production in perfect unison.

The current version of Godspell on Broadway is interactive and inspiring and it's no wonder that the play has drawn countless adherents and followers to its many incarnations over the years!

Related Links: For more information on GODSPELL and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - | Circle in the Sqaure Theatre

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