Monday, March 2, 2015

More News about the Good News

This is not a review. We have plenty of good reviewers in the Baltimore/Washington area. For an extremely local one, you might want to look here. These are my musings upon seeing a favorite musical from my youth and reflecting on how it has changed.


So the sweet and gentle Godspell of my youth was apparently transformed into something more akin to a rock opera in the Broadway revival of 2011. And this production is rooted in that one, so you'll find much more wailing and rocking out than in the original. This review touches on something that we noticed. In all of that rocking and wailing, some of the ensemble singing and tuning was lost. Diction as well. If you come to the show already knowing all of the songs, it won't be a problem for you. But for my daughter who was seeing it for the first time, it was a significant obstacle.

Overall, the energy, enthusiasm and boundless physicality of this production are breathtaking. And those remembering its irreverent topicality will not be disappointed. The story-telling quality of the parables, interpreted with a "let's act it out" style, allow the show to keep updating through the years. And that's good.

I wasn't sure, however, about the setting of Burning Man. My recollections are that the show doesn't really have any particular physical anchor--perhaps an empty playground?-- and that while the Burning Man reference is current, it doesn't add much to how the audience experiences the play. I was stunned by the violence of the crucifixion scene, which I remember as being much more symbolic in the original.

Helicopters, searchlights, megaphones, militarized police wearing helmets that obscure their identities. Jarring. And, I would guess, deliberately so. But for a show that is so deeply rooted in festival, fantasy, and allegory, it feels inappropriately specific to me.

The conversation on the way home focused on two aspects of the okay.

1. If you didn't know the biblical account, and only had this production to go on, why do you think Judas betrayed Jesus?

2. Did the "righteous anger" displayed by Jesus cross the line? Did it show a spark of mental illness? Did it lean less toward holy savior and more toward crazed cult leader?

So, not the typical, "what was your favorite musical number?" conversation. I still love the music, by the way. And this production includes a lovely song that was new to me, "Beautiful City" which was written for the movie. I think, as a teen, I was far more moved by the lyrical quality of "Day by Day" and "All Good Gifts". This time through I was struck by how perfectly crafted "All for the Best" is and how beautifully it illustrates the contrast between Judas and Jesus. Much credit should be given to these particular performers for pulling that off.

I encourage you to go see this production whether or not you have seen this show before. As I said yesterday, it has been extended until March 15th. It's not your mother's Godspell, but it doesn't have to be. It's musical, funny, dramatically challenging. And it will make you think.


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