Written by: Dan Mason
SPOILER ALERT (For Dummies) – Jesus gets crucified in the second act of Godspell. I don’t think I’m giving too much away by telling you that the last image the audience sees is that of Christ’s followers carrying his body away towards the great, white, light. Interestingly enough, that image is the perfect metaphor for this revival of the Stephen Schwartz musical at Circle in the Square.
If I told you that Jesus was the least charismatic performer in the show, you would automatically assume that the show itself is certain to be nailed to the cross. However, through the benefit of a talented and extraordinarily energetic ensemble, combined with clever, fast paced,direction by Daniel Goldstein, you can’t help but smile through all 2 hours and 15 minutes of the show.
Theatre snobs are likely to scoff at the cutesy, tongue in cheek, pop culture references that permeate the production. Everything from Lindsay Lohan, to Steve Jobs, to Occupy Wall Street, to LMFAO’s song “Shots” are integrated into the retelling of the parables. But Godspell has never been a show intended to challenge the audience or its beliefs in Christianity. This is lighthearted, family fare, designed to appeal less to Ben Brantley, and more to the masses who remember performing the show in high school.
As Jesus, Hunter Parrish (Spring Awakening, Showtime’s Weeds), is arguably the weakest link in the cast. Despite possessing boyband good looks and the whitest teeth you have ever seen, his vocals in the first act on songs like “Save The People” and “All for the Best” sounded thin, and his presence is almost too goofy to be believable as a leader of men. Parrish is a talented actor though, and shines much more in the second act, when the stakes are raised and Christ comes to terms with his impending demise.
Doubling in the roles of John and Judas, Wallace Smith (American Idiot, The Lion King, Hair) boasts the longest Broadway resume in the cast, and it shows. He is the most polished performer on the stage. A recent blog in the NY Post suggested that producers missed the boat by not casting Smith as Jesus, and I would be hard pressed to argue that point. Although Parrish has more of a commercial name from his TV work, and ultimately, this show will need some crossover celebrities to maintain ticket sales. Other standouts in this production include Uzo Aduba (Coram Boy), who is breathtaking as the prostitute that Jesus saves from stoning, but also generates huge laughs with a hysterical Donald Trump impersonation. Aduba is hard to keep your eyes off of when she is onstage, which led to a post show discussion between my fiance and I as to whether you could cast a charismatic woman as Jesus as the run goes on. Hannah Montana’s Anna Maria Perez De Tagle sounds beautiful on “Day by Day”, and Telly Leung (Rent, Glee) kills it on “All Good Gifts”.
The show takes advantage of the intimate space of Circle In The Square, placing the orchestra throughout the house and routinely bringing audience members onstage to participate in the fun, including an intermission jam session where you can join the cast onstage to partake in the drinking of “wine” (it’s really grape juice). Michael Holland’s orchestrations breathe new life into Schwartz’s score. Goldstein’s direction is fun, yet tasteful in its handling of the crucifixion.
Grade – B+