The musical “Godspell” originated in 1970 as a Master’s Thesis for John Michael Tebelak under the direction of Lawrence Carra at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It opened off-Broadway in 1971after the producers hired Stephen Schwartz (another Carnegie Mellon Alumni) to write a new musical score. In 1972 it was made into a movie and in 1976 if finally hit the Broadway stage after runs in various theaters around the world. It has been performed in various interpretations throughout its history.
“Godspell” came about at the height of the golden age of counter culture theater and musicals when such shows as “Hair”, “Oh, Calcutta”, and “Jesus Christ Superstar” filled the stages across the United States and beyond. I always have to smile when seeing one of these shows because no matter how well polished the production is there’s this feeling of built in amateurness. It is almost like Andy Hardy landed in a hippy commune and said, “Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!”
That being said, I must admit that my wife and I really enjoyed the Blank Canvas production of “Godspell”. Although it seems that this version seems to take quite a few liberties with the original story line and the show is chock full of modern references (there is a hilarious send-up of Donald Trump as the rich man who cannot get to heaven) it is none the less quite entertaining.
The cast is energetic and the action moves very quickly in spite of the frequent use of direct quotes from the Bible which could bog down the show but with added action and music moves the story merrily along.
The show begins with “the little girl” taking a Hans Solo figure from her brother and hiding it in her room. She then goes to sleep and dreams that all the various toys and images from pictures in her room come to life. There is Hans Solo, a stuffed lion, a cabbage patch raggedy Anne, a Canadian Mountie, a Barbie doll, a ballerina, a preacher/John the Baptist/Judas and Jesus. The musical portion begins with the singing of “Prepare ye The Way of the Lord” led by Isreal Spain’s fantastic baritone (John the Baptist and Judas) as he baptizes the congregation and Jesus with a bubble gun.
The show then proceeds with the telling of the parables of Jesus Christ interspersed with the various musical numbers such as “Save the People”, “Day by Day”, “Learn Your Lessons Well”, “Oh Bless the Lord”, “All for the Best”, “All Good Gifts”, “Light of the World”, “Turn Back O Man”, “Alas for You”, “By My Side”, “We Beseech Thee”, Beautiful City” and “On the Willows”. The songs are extremely well done by this very competent and capable cast of singers who hold nothing back in their delivery. The story covers the high points of Christ’s mission on earth including his crucifixion. Although no celebration of his resurrection is portrayed, he does rejoin the cast for the “Finale”.
As for the cast from “Blank Canvas Theatre”, they never cease to amaze me. With a less than nothing budget they manage to consistently put on really great musicals and plays. Some of the best “micro theater” shows that I have seen in Cleveland have been at their 78th Street Studios location. “Godspell” is no exception. With a three piece band of Piano, Drums and Bass and nine performers they fill the stage with a brand of youthful exuberance and quite excellent singing. There is even a guitar and flute interlude that shows off some of the cast’s further talents.
Prude Alert: This is the story about Jesus Christ so you can expect no profanity. Some of the character portrayals may seem a bit like poking fun at organized religion but it is all done tongue in cheek. There is use of strobe light on two occasions that may bother those who are sensitive. Bring the entire family for this one. It is a nice break from the usual “Tinsel Parade” and good moral messages can be found in the show.
Shooting From The Lip (My Last Words): “Godspell” now playing at Blank Canvas’ 78 Street Studios Theater is a flashback to those halcyon days when hippies ruled the theater and the more counter-culture the show was the better. This is a lively, song filled, very professional rendition of a classic. Tickets are scarce with only a few dates left. Go see this one and enjoy.
Noah Hrbek as Jesus; Isreal Spain as John the Baptist/Judas and Leslie Andrews, Eric Thomas Fancher, Kristen Hoffman, Kirk Lydell, Kate Leigh Michalski, Hayden Neidhardt and Shane Patrick O’Neill as Ensemble.
Directed by Patrick Ciamacco, Music Direction by Lawrence Wallace, Stage Managing by Allison Schulze, Costume Design by Luke Scattergood, Lighting Design by Cory Molner, Sound Operation by Sarah Lynne Nicholas, Set Design by Patrick Ciamacco, Prop and Toy Design by Noah Hrbek, Assistant Technical Directing by Chuck Klein, Technical Directing by Patrick Ciamacco, Parable Advising by Jeff Laird and Scenic Painting by Noah Hrbek, Alexis Hedderson and Patrick Ciamacco.
Lawrence Wallace, Piano; Chris Andrews, Drums; and Shawn Brandt, Bass.
To purchase tickets for this show CLICK HERE.