By Jeff Walsh
Godspell is an odd mix of things that seemingly shouldn't work together: a series of parables from the Gospel of Matthew, amazing songs by Stephen Schwartz, and a lot of freedom in between on how to present both.
But somehow, the spare book, beautiful music, and lack of structure all combine to make something bigger than the sum of its parts. In its current Broadway incarnation, Godspell is a high-energy experience that barely lets you catch your breath.
Before I saw the show, in December, an elderly woman at the Patti Lupone/Mandy Patinkin show was giving me the rundown on all the new Broadway shows. When she came to Godspell, her demeanor changed and she clutched her chest, like even remembering the manic energy was exhausting her: "They keep running around, trying to make us have fun."
So far, I remember all her reviews, and while I can usually see her point, they always seem slightly off. But, to be fair, there are trampolines, streamers, cast members racing around the theater, audience members onstage doing Pictionary and charades, and yet it all holds together (I think that last phrase is where she and I would differ).
But I think too many people focus on the amped-up part but gloss over how affecting it can be. The graceful, touching moments carved out to share the simple and universal message that holds it all together, whether it is Hunter Parrish as Jesus (recently replaced by High School Musical's Corbin Bleu) singing Beautiful City, Telly Leung singing "All Good Gifts," or Anna Maria Perez de Tagle's "Day By Day." And the upbeat numbers work just as well, with George Salazar as a standout just by the amount of fun he seems to be having onstage.
Even the music from Stephen Schwartz (who many years after Godspell would go on to write Wicked) is a pastiche of pop rock, ballads, and vaudeville, with the staging of "All For The Best" as a standout.
The cast is hard to criticize, because it is basically all triple threats at the top of their game, all connecting together onstage.
Of course, the truly amazing part is how effective it is to see a musical passion play, which ends with the crucifixion of Jesus, and walk away with how so many of the messages are nurturing and universal. That said, someone looking for a specifically Christian show, may get a more specific message that deepens their faith.
Either way, it's a great night of theater.
For more information, check out http://www.godspell.com/