This past Saturday, the 16th, I was invited by one of the Producers of Broadway’s Godspell to come see the show before it closed. I must admit, I felt guilty for not having seen it yet, as one of my friends from the original Los Angeles production of bare, Wallace Smith (he played Matt, I understudied Nadia and was in the ensemble), has been portraying Judas for the past 9 months! He’s also known for Broadway’s American Idiot, The Lion King, and Hair. He is a powerful performer with an incredible amount of grace, humor and vocal savvy. It was great to see him perform again.
Godspell the show itself is an odd duck. I performed in it (singing “Oh Bless the Lord”) at UCLA, wearing a dress covered in limes and lemons, and the show itself always felt lopsided. The first act is a lot of fun, and then the second act dives into heavy judgement and the actual story of Jesus being betrayed and crucified. To someone who isn’t a Christian, this always felt odd, both in performing it and watching it. That said, the production at the Circle in the Square theater is absolutely marvelous. And they are closing June 24th, so go see it now before it closes (tickets are low-priced on TDF).
WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD
What I appreciated about this production was the intimacy of the staging, direction, and involvement of the audience. Members of the audience became part of the production on stage during some moments, and the circular nature of the stage made the evening feel less like an event, but more like a “salon of the minds.” The ingenious simplicity of the stage (with everyday objects and trap doors revealing water and mini-trampolines) created surprises and instant dimensions to the oval playing field. I loved the fact that the band was dispersed throughout the audience (the rhythm guitarist was directly to my left by about 5 seats), except for the music director/conductor/pianist, who was embedded with his piano into the stage.
And the cast was one to want you would want to hang out with afterward – the direction and performances for this show have crafted a cast that is spontaneous, energetic, quick to respond to things around them, and multi-talented. Whether this has been well-rehearsed and carved into the show (ie, the improvisational moments were created and decided upon months ago), or if the moments are honestly “discovered” in the moment…well, it really doesn’t matter. Obviously, the cast and crew have been joyously relaxed into their roles as storytellers and creative collaborators that they bounce from one thing to the next with apparent truth and spontaneity. This works incredibly well with the moments when audience members become part of the parables, as characters or as “pictionary” players or set-dressing. And the script has been updated (as the script to Godspell should with every decade of new pop culture references) to include Trump, Romney, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and other political/pop culture figures. The parables become not old-hat teachings from a man dead by 2000 years, but more of a comment on the ethical choices we ourselves make on a day-to-day basis, and how our country is behaving as both a cultural model and world partner. For all its second-act faults, this is what Godspell should do – mirror ourselves even when quoting Biblical sayings to both believers and non-believers. To that extent, this high-energy production accomplished it successfully.
Then the topic of the music – oh boy! While there are some obvious songs that have become earworms (“Day by Day,” “O Bless The Lord,” “Light of the World”), I never have in the past left the theater remembering any of the other songs. This show’s arrangements of the music, however, tunes the modern ear towards the lyrics and portrays the songs in different genres. I loved “Turn Back O Man” as a 1960’s James Bond Theme, and the haunting “On The Willows” made more lyrical sense than ever before to me.
So, to close – see Godspell this week before it closes!
A poster-wall inside the theater offered a photo and signing opportunity…
So, I signed it “Bless The Lord UCLA ’99.” Call me cheeseball.
The audience swarms the stage to feel a part of Broadway, and to have a glass of “wine.”
Me and my “wine” (grape juice)