The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings




Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants









Free Updates
Writing for Us

A CurtainUp Review

I come not to abolish but to complete. --- Jesus

Having survived the wildly variable strengths of high school and church drama clubs everywhere, Godspell is nothing if not durable. Now we have this production, originally staged off-off Broadway, with a rich cast that is uniformly strong: talented, committed and infectiously endearing. The question thus arises: can the show itself -- which musicalizes the story of Jesus as related in the Gospel According to St. Matthew in the distinct style of the late Sixties-- survive into a new millennium?    

By any standard, Godspell has been hugely successful, so much so that any comments one might make about its diffuse, hard-to-follow story line seem irrelevant. I certainly won't regurgitate them here. Begun as a college project by its book writer, Godspell catapulted to attention after Stephen Schwartz (on the heels of his debut musical Pippin) came aboard to put meat on its lanky bones. It opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1971 before transferring uptown to the Promenade, where it ran for an astounding 2,124 performances. It then enjoyed a further transfer to the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway where it ran for an additional 66 weeks. 
Schwartz has revisited his project in an effort to lubricate its move into the year 2000. This, we are told, includes both new lyrics and "updated" dialogue. (For the record, the original production credited Schwartz with writing "new lyrics" since many of them were lifted directly from religious texts so what we have now are thus really "new, new lyrics".) Shawn Rozsa has also directed it (and had it designed and re-orchestrated) in a way that attempts to eradicate the show's hippie/flower children qualities (which, also for the record, were not a part of the original conception, which called for Jesus to be a leader of a group of clowns). 

These efforts, despite the estimable achievements of the cast to which I will return below, are painfully unsuccessful. Schwartz's updating consists of adding lame contemporary references (Johnnie Cochrane, using "lifelines" a la TV's Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and so on) that trade on the lowest, most banal form of recognitional humor. The overall feel of the show has now been transformed into one so closely resembling Rent that mentioning it seems unavoidable. The musical arrangements, supported by a fine on-stage band, are better, convincingly escaping the most obviously dated markers (except in the finale which seems destined to retain a "Kumbaya" feel). This reëngineering is accomplished generally without being too obvious about it, an exception being the addition of what seems like an obligatory but uncomfortable rap arrangement.

Shawn Rozsa's direction, which too-often follows the "stand-in-a-row, stare-at-the-spotlights" school, is hampered by the addition of three rows of on-stage seats. Because of this, I am inclined to forgive its fussiness. The effects of this stage arrangement on Ovi Vargas's choreography are even more acute. (It seems the producer has balanced the books at the expense of the staging.) 

The way Godspell forces the audience's enthusiasm by involving it in the show is unfortunate, but it's an element of the original that is not resisted here. The audience is invited (dragged) on-stage at the intermission, and encouraged to dance. Later, one cast member entertains by bringing out a miniature football which he throws to members of the audience, while another passes through the aisles blowing bubbles. 

Back at last to the cast. The number of unknown young performers who have gone on to become stars after cutting their teeth on Godspell is impressive: Gilda Radner, Jeremy Irons, Joe Mantegna, Victor Garber and Andrea Martin among them. This production, which includes some who are fresh out of school and others who've already made it to Broadway, boasts some particularly strong "breakout" talent. 

Chief among these is Chad Kimball, whose engaging stage presence and expressive, energetic performance is bested only by his fine voice. Among the others, Barrett Foa (who plays Jesus) is as hard-working as he is charismatic (far more than you can say for the more-celebrated Jesus of Glenn Carter in the recent Jesus Christ Superstar revival on Broadway). Catherine Carpenter offered a fine rendition of the show's most famous song, "Day by Day," trumped by the duet she sings with the also-excellent Lucia Giannetta, "By My Side" (the only song not written by Schwartz -- lyrics by Jay Hamburger, music by Peggy Gordon). And although they are heavily type-cast, I very much liked Capathia Jenkins (the ubiquitous large powerfully-voiced African American woman), Eliseo Roman (the show's Nuyorican representative) and the appealing Tim Cain, who first came to my attention in a terrific show in the East Village called Minstrel Show or the Lynching of William Brown. 

There are songs in Godspell that are a pleasure to hear again, especially because of these actors' efforts. Go and enjoy listening to them performed very, very well without expecting much more, and you won't be disappointed. 

Jesus Christ Superstar . . .Minstrel Show or the Lynching of William Brown

Music and New Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Original Book by John-Michael Tebelak
Directed by Shawn Rozsa

with Shoshana Bean, Tim Cain, Catherine Carpenter, Will Erat, Barrett Foa, Lucia Giannetta, Capathia Jenkins, Chad Kimball, Leslie Kritzer and Eliseo Roman  
Musicians: Louis Gentile, Anthony Maulella, Audrey Terry and Tony Columbo
Set Design: Kevin Lock
Costume Design: William Ivey Long and Bernard Grenier
Lighting Design: Herrick Goldman

Music Direction: Dan Schachner
Choreographer: Ovi Vargas
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with 1 intermission  
Theatre at St. Peter's Church, 519 Lexington Avenue (@ 54th Street) (212) 239-6200
Opened August 2, 2000
Reviewed by Les Gutman 8/3/2000 based on an 8/1/2000 performance
Stage Plays
The Internet Theatre Bookshop "Virtually Every Play in the World" --even out of print plays

Playbill Broadway Year Book
The new annual to dress up every Broadway lover's coffee table

broadway musicals: the 101 greatest shows of all time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2006 Movie Guide

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from