Review: Godspell. West Bridgford Operatic Society. 14-15 June.

Written in the early 1970s, Godspell is a musical adaptation of the Gospel of St Matthew. The show’s book is by John Michael -Tebelak with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. The musical style includes pop, rock and roll and rap and the playing style in the first half is joyous as a colourful and fun Jesus, helped by John/Judas, gathers together a band of followers. As Jesus teaches his followers a caring and loving way of living through acting out parables our hearts and souls are lifted by the child-like innocent actions unfolding.

The first act features songs such as Prepare Ye The Way of The Lord, Save The People, Day by Day, Learn Your Lessons Well, Bless The Lord, All For The Best, Light of the World. The second act gets more serious in tone as John/Judas becomes critical and disillusioned with following the path of Jesus. The musical gradually takes on a much darker vibe with a mix of angst ridden songs like Alas For You, the dramatic crucifix Finale mixed in with the vaudevillian Turn Back O Man, We Beseech Thee, the haunting On The Willows and a reprise of Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord. Over time there has been some religion based criticism that there is no obvious allusion to or depiction of a resurrection of Christ after the crucifixion. The writers say that the show is about love and not whether or not Jesus is resurrected.

Godspell became a world wide phenomenon and the original British production featured a young David Essex as a Superman be-shirted Jesus and Jeremy Irons as ring master style John/Judas. In the 70s and 80s it seemed that every regional theatre had sell out productions enlivening their stages and in 1973 a popular film version was made starring Canadian Victor Garber as Jesus and David Haskell as John/Judas. It was filmed in and around the then contemporary city of New York using the Twin Towers as a regular backdrop. Over time the show has been superseded by other popular musical theatre fare, like Schwartz’s very own Wicked and sadly, in this reviewer’s opinion it isn’t performed as much as it should be. Saying that, there was a ten month long revival on Broadway in 2011.

So, it is with great delight that the amatuer West Bridgford Operatic Society have produced their own large cast version of Godspell and rather fittingly decided to show it the West Bridgford Baptist Church on Melton Road 14th – 15th June for three performances.

Given that there are normally just ten principals in the Godspell cast, director Meng Khaw and choreographer Sarah Shields have used thirty-two WBOS members young and older to flesh out the work and often completely fill the stage. This idea works best with the choral numbers where we get a beautiful wall of sound which is appreciated by the packed audience tonight.

John Gill as Jesus is inspired casting. He has a great onstage presence, a super voice and just the right amount of comedy styling where he is teaching his lessons through playful parables. Offering us some very comical moments and quality singing are the ten strong main principals Tom Parry (John/Judas), Alex Grosse (Jeffrey), James Crabtree (Lamar), Martin Thomas (Herb), Sarah Shields (Robin), Biba Tribensee (Joanne), Sarah Harley (Peggy), Danielle Rogers (Sonia) and Lee Horne (Gilmer).

This uplifting Godspell is a generous production where pretty much all of the cast as individuals are given a chance to shine dramatically and/or through song. Enthusiasm, inclusion and talent are the key words to describe this show at the West Bridgford Baptist Church and the seven piece band work hard in a variety of musical styles throughout.

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