Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Broadway: "Godspell" Returns

Hunter Parrish in Godspell (photo by Jeremy Daniel)
Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli
Directed by Daniel Goldstein
Starring Hunter Parrish, Wallace Smith, Uzo Aduba, Nick Blaemire, Celisse Henderson, Morgan James, Telly Leung, Lindsay Mendez, George Salazar, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle

Performances began October 13, 2011; opened November 7
Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 West 50th Street, New York NY

The amped-up Broadway revival of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell spends too much time dumbing itself down, as if the material itself isn’t solid enough to attract new audiences 40 years after its premiere.

What’s strange is that a show originally conceived as a modern, timeless reworking of the story of Christ and his disciples has been reworked to try to remain contemporary. Although Godspell remains a joyful celebration filled with Schwartz’s engaging songs, Daniel Goldstein’s staging makes other errors.

For starters, the cast’s energy is wasted as they bounce around the small Circle in the Square stage as if practicing for a triathlon during the songs (which they may well be), thanks to Christopher Gattelli’s busy but uninspired choreography. When the performers are not running in and out of the stage area, they jump up and down on trampolines appearing from trap doors or bring audience members onstage for some cute interaction.

But where Godspell is most exasperating is during the many scenes that reenact the parables. Jesus told parables to simplify his lessons for the masses: these jokey and farcical reenactments not only further simplify stories already made simple, but dumb them down so much that they pander to audiences. Add to that the many pop-culture and topical references (Steve Jobs, Lindsay Lohan and Occupy Wall Street, for starters) and you have a musical begging for audience approval.

Schwartz’s tuneful rock songs sound harder but hallower performed by the production’s straight-ahead rock band (bass-drums-guitars): Schwartz’s music retains its appealing simplicity, for the most part, although it’s too bad that the sweetly understated “Day by Day” has been turned into an “American Idol”-style audition.

Hunter Parrish makes a spirited pretty-boy Jesus, Wallace Smith a dashing John the Baptist and Judas, and the rest of the cast has enough spunk to keep up with them. Would that this new Godspell was as dynamic as its performers.

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