During the late ’60s, a new form of entertainment
was born on Broadway. It was called the rock musical and it was
a blend of hippie culture, theatrical conventions and psychedelic
Starting with Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s "Hair," the rock musical culminated with "The Who’s Tommy," which opened in 1993, and then promptly died as composers like Andrew Lloyd Webber - whose "Jesus Christ Superstar" opened on Broadway in 1971 and ran for 711 performances - and Stephen Schwartz - whose "Godspell" moved from off-Broadway to Broadway in 1976, where it ran for 527 performances - found other outlets for their talents. (Schwartz is the composer of "Wicked" and Webber is the producer of "Bombay Dreams.")
Schwartz’s "Godspell," currently playing at Bay Ridge’s Christ Church in a revival by the Brooklyn Theatre Arts Project, was conceived and directed by John Michael Tebelak, who along with the original cast had recently graduated from college. Loosely based on the Gospel according to Matthew ("godspel" is an Old English spelling of "gospel," which means "good news"), the show reflected a youth culture that portrayed Jesus as a prototypical hippie who wears a Superman T-shirt and gives out flowers and trinkets to his followers.
In the Brooklyn Theatre Arts production, director Paul Campione has made the setting Brooklyn (or more precisely a Brooklyn street designed by John Kohan, where all the production’s advertisers are located), updated some of the dialogue and referenced more current pop culture. Fortunately for Campione and the rest of the troupe, this is an out-of-the-way Brooklyn production, and will pass below the radar of lawyers who might otherwise pounce on copyright infringement.
"Godspell" begins with John the Baptist commanding the multitude to prepare itself and includes several familiar Bible parables in the first act - the Good Samaritan, the raising of Lazarus, the Lilies of the Field - told in song, dance and improvisation. Act 2 tells the story of the Passion - the Last Supper, the Crucifixion - related in that same whimsical spirit.
The musical is an ensemble piece that moves along via a robust score that is more exuberant than distinctive. (The only hit song, "Day by Day," topped the charts in the summer of 1971.) The songs are performed by Jesus and his disciples (a motley crew of freaks and clowns) and are interspersed with skits that are more vaudevillian than theological.
Campione, a Wagner College graduate, has assembled an impressive group of fellow-alumni and current Wagner students - from Jesus (Greg Bechtel) to his disciples (Christine Donlon, Hector Espinoza, Kayla King, James Steele, Jackie Wolter) along with several other (mostly young) people for this show. Their abundant energy keeps the stage rocking.
If "Godspell" has any slow moments they are in the dialogue and mime scenes between the songs. Here the play gets too cute for comfort, betraying the ultimately serious nature of Jesus, the gospels and the play itself.
Although a certain degree of individual creativity and improvisation is clearly in the spirit of the script and the music, after a while the references to Beatles songs, commercials, TV shows, etc. are a bit much. However scenes like the Last Supper, the Crucifixion (with its dramatic Caravaggio-like lighting), and the resurrection (when Jesus is carried down the aisle of the theater) are extremely impressive.
Although America was established on largely secular principles, ours is a country that has always struggled with the place of religion in public life. For many people the line between religious morality, personal morals and the laws of the state is indeed blurry. Shows like "Godspell" prove that the line between religion and entertainment is equally ambiguous.
"Godspell" also proves that entertainment can be the handmaiden of religion.
Brooklyn Theatre Arts Project’s "Godspell" runs through Nov. 20, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. Tickets are $10. Christ Church is located at 7301 Ridge Blvd. between 73rd and 74th streets in Bay Ridge. For reservations, call (718) 791-9667 or visit www.BTAP.org.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:
You agree that you, and not BrooklynPaper.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to BrooklynPaper.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.