Broadway

Godspell review

Newcomer Corbin Bleu (High School Musical) is a perfect fit in this frenetic, modern update of Stephen Schwartz’s time-honoured classic.

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As wonderful as the score for Godspell is, I have always had a problem sitting through its book scenes. Befitting its status as a 1970s concept musical, the show is much more of a situation than a traditional narrative. There is nothing wrong with the litany of stories presented, it’s just that to me, and possibly every other theatergoer raised Catholic (or any other Christian variant), they are just so familiar. Each time a story/parable/lesson begins, its middle and end are already known, thus stripping its interest and generally making one wish the next song would hurry up and start.

Fortunately, the team behind this revival have performed a miracle of their own, infusing the familiar script with relentless energy and highly inventive creativity that totally bring the show to life. Daniel Goldstein has made a supremely auspicious Broadway debut, devising a multitude of tricks and delights to bring genuine interest and freshness to the work. Pictionary, charades, puppetry, rap, mime – these are just a few of the devices used to tell the stories, not to mention audience involvement of a far less threatening nature than that seen at One Man, Two Guvnors. The talented cast, a highly economical company of 10, maintain energy and affection at fever pitch, performing with a wide range of skills to the wonder of the audience.

Choreographer du jour Christopher Gattelli adds to the infectious delight with an equally wide vocabulary of dance and movement. The vaudeville flair of “All for the Best” is an act one showstopper, and the joy reaches fever pitch as each cast member takes flight on their own mini trampet in “We Beseech Thee.”

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Performed completely in the round, it is further testament to Goldstein’s skill that constant movement and changes of direction provide plenty to see and all sides are somehow always included at once. The placement of members of the band throughout the audience adds to the festive atmosphere. With no backdrop as such, designer David Korins has hidden plenty of surprises in the floor.

The combination of Schwartz’s new lyrics and Goldstein’s work on John-Michael Tebelak’s original work has brought the piece into the new millennium. Sprinklings of pop culture and political references are well measured and help to relate the stories to today’s audience. Michael Holland’s orchestrations and vocal arrangements provide further freshness. Given these updates, it seems an incongruous choice that Miranda Hoffman’s circus-style costumes hark back to the 1970s.

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While stunt casting abounds to sell tickets on Broadway, Corbin Bleu, having already demonstrated his live music theatre chops in In The Heights, is an inspired choice to star as Jesus. Less than two weeks into his run, Bleu is in top form as the charismatic, loving leader of what is essentially a rambunctious cult of misfits. A terrific singer, dancer and actor, it is Bleu’s open face and wonderfully warm smile that really make the performance work. Having seen numerous versions of Jesus’ story, this is the first time I was actually struck by the utter tragedy of such a tight knit group of friends having their leader and best friend taken from them and killed.

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Each and every member of the cast has their moments to shine, and the the trust and camaraderie between the players is palpable. Wallace Smith is an intense and compelling Judas. It is almost impossible to select highlights from the rest of the cast as they are so well matched. Worthy of a quick mention is the medley of famous music theatre riffs played on piano at the end of interval by Telly Leung. Fellow ‘Man in Chair’ types will delight in picking each song title and show.

As a partner production to Wicked, playing right next door, it is great that a new generation of theatergoers have the chance to discover and enjoy Godspell.

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Godspell has an open-ended run at Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theater.

Reviewed 8pm Saturday 28 April 2012 at Circle in the Square Theater, NY.

Photos: Jeremy Daniel

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