CharactersThe show features eight non- Biblical characters, who sing and act out the parables: Gilmer (silly, a great storyteller); Robin (a tomboy); Herb (goofy and entertaining); Jeffrey (happy and excited); Joanne (eager and enthusiastic); Lamar (clumsy and unintentionally funny); Peggy (shy and loyal); and Sonia (dramatic with a put-on sensuality). In the original script, licensed through Theatre Maximus, the "Christ" character and the "John" and "Judas" role are assigned the names of the original performers, Stephen and David. In the revised script used for the 2011 Broadway revival, the names of the cast are again assigned to the non-Biblical roles: Nick, Telly, George, Anna Maria, Lindsay, Uzo, Morgan, and Celisse. Each character is also assigned a few character traits. An ensemble can also be added to the production if needed. All ten actors are on stage throughout the entirety of the production.
Act IThe show opens with 's voice, as spoken by , declaring his supremacy: "My name is Known: God and King. I am most in majesty, in whom no beginning may be and no end." ("Opening (Monologue)"). The cast then enters and takes the roles of various s who sing their philosophies, first alone, then in cacophonous ("Prologue: Tower of Babble"). In response, enters blowing a to call the community to order. He then beckons them to "Prepare Ye, The Way of the Lord!" and baptizes the cast ("Prepare Ye"). John gives a short sermon, as watches quietly. Jesus then announces his presence and says that he also wishes to be baptized. John instead asks to be baptized by Jesus. Jesus explains that "We do well now to conform with all that God requires" and is baptized by John. The cast enters and sings with Jesus ("Save the People"). In his first , Jesus explains that he has come "not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to complete." Jesus explains to the cast that those who adhere to the law of God will earn the highest place in the Kingdom of Heaven. He tells them the parable of the Widow and the Judge, demonstrating that God is a just jurist who will support those who cry out to him. The cast begins to understand Jesus' teachings and take it upon themselves to tell the story of the praying in the temple: "Every man who humbles himself shall be exalted!" As Jesus teaches the law of the offering gifts at the altar, the cast makes offerings of themselves. They are taught that to approach God's altar, they must be pure of heart and soul. They then act out the a story of a master and a servant who owes him a debt. The servant asks his master for pity in repaying the debt, and the master absolves it. The servant then turns to a fellow servant who "owed him a few dollars" and demands that it be paid in full. The master, hearing this, then condemns the servant to prison. Jesus explains the moral: "Forgive your brothers from your heart." The character telling the parable sings "Day by Day", and the cast joins in. After the song, Jesus teaches that if one part of you offends God, it is better to lose it than to have the whole of the body thrown into hell. The cast then plays to finish several statements posed by Jesus, including "If a man sues you for your shirt..." and "If a man asks you to go one mile with him...." The cast then performs the as a play-within-a-play. Jesus explains the need to "love your enemies" and "not make a show of religion before men". He says: "God will reward a good deed done in secret" ("Shhh! It's a secret!"). The cast then performs the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. On earth, the rich man feasts, and Lazarus begs and is ignored. Upon dying, Lazarus is rewarded with Heaven, while the rich man is in Hell. The audience is told to "Learn Your Lessons Well" or be faced with eternal damnation. When the rich man asks Abraham if he would send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers of their impending doom, Abraham tells him no: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead." Jesus teaches that no man can serve two masters (God and money). A member of the cast tells a story of a man who spent a lifetime acquiring the good things in life, then dies before he has the time to enjoy them. This character sings "Bless the Lord," then Jesus tells the cast not to worry about tomorrow: "Tomorrow will take care of itself. Today has problems of its own." In an ic chorus, the cast recites the . Judas directs the final beatitude regarding persecution at Jesus, and Jesus quickly changes the subject ("Did I ever tell you that I used to read feet?"). However, Jesus then persuades the cast that it is "All for the Best" and heaven contains the ultimate reward as Jesus and Judas do a soft shoe together. This is followed by the parable of the Sower of the Seeds, which Jesus tells them represent the Word of God ("All Good Gifts"). By this point in the musical, the group has transformed from a rag-tag cast, into a community of love and caring and now march as soldiers in the military, signifying their ability to think as one. With Jesus as the drill sergeant, they perform the . The cast sings "Light of the World" about Christ's Light and how it shines in each person.
IntermissionJesus thanks the audience for coming and announces a 10-minute . There is audience interaction during intermission. In the original production, the cast joined the audience for wine and bread. In the 2011 Broadway revival, the audience was offered wine on the stage. The second act then opens with one or more cast members singing "Learn Your Lessons Well", calling the audience back to their seats.
Act IIAfter the reprise of "Learn Your Lessons Well", a member of the cast sings "Turn Back, O Man", imploring mankind to give up its temporal pursuits and turn to God. Jesus then says: "This is the beginning." Several members of the cast then begin to question Jesus's authority, and he responds with yet another parable. He is asked, "What is the greatest commandment?" and responds, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul... And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" The continue to question him, and he laments "Alas for You" and calls them hypocrites. Members of the cast gather, join in Jesus' song, and throw garbage at the Pharisees. Jesus predicts that he will not be seen for quite a while, while standing at the " ", and predicts great wars and famines. He reminds the cast and audience of the time of and teaches that faith can calm the storm. The cast is told: "Keep awake, then. For the Son of Man will come at a time when you least expect it." One woman in the cast is shunned as an . Jesus says: "Let the one of you who is faultless cast the first stone." Her accusers then bow their heads and walk away. Jesus walks over to her and asks: "Woman... where are they now? Has no one condemned you?" The woman answers: "No one, sir." He tells her: "Then nor shall I. You may go, but do not sin again." As she watches Jesus walk from her, she entreats him to remain "By My Side". During this song, Judas foretells his upcoming betrayal of Jesus. In one of the lighter moments in the second act, Jesus tells how he will separate men as a shepherd separates his flock into and s. The sheep will enter heaven while the goats must suffer eternal damnation. "We Beseech Thee" cry the goats, begging for mercy. After the song, the cast reminds each other to take things "Day By Day", as they remove their clown makeup, face paint, or object. They assemble for the and Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him. Each member of the cast asks, "Is it I?" ending with Judas: "Rabbi... can you mean me?" Jesus tells him to do quickly what he must do and Judas runs off. Jesus breaks the bread and shares the wine, while saying the traditional Hebrew Seder blessings. He tells his followers that they will dine together in the Kingdom of Heaven. The band sings "On the Willows", which is about what has been sacrificed. In the song, Jesus says goodbye to the cast. He asks that they wait for him as he goes into the to pray. In the garden, Jesus implores God to let the burden be lifted from his shoulders if there is another way. Jesus returns to his followers to find them all asleep. He begs them to stay awake, but they all fall asleep again and Jesus warns them they will all betray him three times (a reference to the apostle ). Jesus then prays to God that if his death cannot pass him by, then His will must be done. He is then tempted by (usually played by the apostles), but orders him away. Judas returns to betray Jesus, but has a moment where he cannot bring himself to do it. He tries to leave but finds himself boxed in by invisible walls, except for one path which leads to Jesus. Jesus encourages Judas to do what he has come to do, and Judas grabs Jesus to bring him to be . The community starts to attack Judas, while Jesus tells them to stop, as all who live by the sword will one day die by it. Judas (usually alone, as a representation of the others arresting Jesus) ties Jesus upon an electric fence (representative of the cross) as Jesus berates him for arresting him at night, but then says that it had to happen to fulfill the prophets' writings. The "Finale" begins, loud and in B-minor, with Jesus wailing, "Oh, God, I'm bleeding," and the community answers: "Oh, God, You're bleeding." Jesus dies and the music ends. The women of the cast sing "Long Live God", and the men join in with "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" in counterpoint. The cast removes Jesus from the fence and carries him out, either offstage or through the aisles. The cast then finishes with a reprise of "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord".
Ending interpretationSimilar to criticism of the 1970 rock opera '' '' there is controversy over there being no obvious allusion to the in the show. It can be interpreted that either the singing of "Prepare Ye" in the finale or the curtain call, where all including Jesus return to the stage, represents the resurrection. The script states that either representation is valid.
Off-Broadway production;Act I *Tower of Babble – Company *Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord – David and Company *Save the People – Stephen and Company *Day by Day – Robin and Company *Learn Your Lessons Well – Gilmer *Bless the Lord – Joanne and Company *All for the Best – Stephen and David *All Good Gifts – Lamar and Company *Light of the World – Herb and Company ;Act II *Learn Your Lessons Well (Reprise) – Lamar and Company *Turn Back, O Man – Sonia and Company *Alas for You – Stephen *By My Side – Peggy and Company *We Beseech Thee – Jeffrey and Company *On the Willows – Band *Finale – Company
2011 Broadway revival;Act I *Tower of Babble – cast *Prepare Ye – John the Baptist and cast *Save the People – Jesus and cast *Day by Day – Anna Marie and cast *Learn Your Lessons Well – Celisse and cast *Bless the Lord – Lindsay and cast *All for the Best – Jesus, Judas and cast *All Good Gifts – Telly and cast *Light of the World – George and cast ;Act II *Turn Back, O Man – Morgan, Jesus, and cast *Alas for You – Jesus *By My Side – Uzo and cast *We Beseech Thee – Nick and cast *Beautiful City – Jesus *On the Willows- Judas and the Band (or ensemble) *Finale – Jesus and cast
Tower of Babble"Tower of Babble," the show's opening number, is often omitted by many productions. The song consists of the eight disciples (or soloists) acting out as philosophers, each singing about their various philosophies. They grow increasingly more irritated with each other, sing in contradiction, and eventually run out of words. "Prepare Ye" follows this prologue. In the original productions, the philosophers were ( ), ( Peggy Gordon), (Lamar Alford), ( Gilmer McCormick), ( ), (Joanne Jonas), (Robin Lamont), and (Herb Braha). In the 2001 revival, Luther, Gibbon, Nietzsche, and Fuller were replaced by , Jonathan Edwards, , and , respectively. The 2011 revival retains Galilei, Hubbard, and Williamson, but restores Gibbon and replaces da Vinci with . On many early cast recordings, including the original off-Broadway recording and the original London recording, the prologue was omitted in order to produce an album that could sell as a pop album. This omission was for marketing purposes and was not meant to diminish the importance of the number, as Stephen Schwartz has repeatedly stated. As a consequence, some audiences have gotten the impression that this number was added into the score later.
Beautiful City"Beautiful City" was written in 1972 as part of the film and re-written in 1993 after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. In the film, it follows "Alas for You" and "By My Side", omitting the parable typically found in between these two numbers. In the decades following the film's release, many directors have chosen to use the lyrics from the original film version, sometimes to replace the "Day by Day" reprise, "Tower of Babble", like the prologue, or adding it the end of the musical as an additional scene depicting the Resurrection. The 2011 Broadway revival places "Beautiful City" after "We Beseech Thee" and just before the Last Supper, sung by Jesus as a slow ballad. This production used the revised 1993 lyrics and is included on its cast recording, along with a cover by John Ondrasik of as a bonus track. Some productions use both the original upbeat film version as a prologue as well as the ballad version, either in its original place just before the Last Supper whereupon the Day By Day reprise is used as the Resurrection, or as an epilogue depicting the resurrection itself. In Music Theater International's Broadway Junior series, which edits popular musicals to one act appropriate for a middle school cast, "Beautiful City" is included in the show. ''Godspell Junior'' contains most of the first act and almost none of the second act. "By My Side" is omitted entirely. "Beautiful City" is placed at the beginning of the second act and is immediately followed by the Last Supper, the Betrayal, and the Crucifixion.
1970: Carnegie Mellon UniversityJohn-Michael Tebelak wrote the first version of ''Godspell'' as his at Carnegie Mellon University. The Carnegie Mellon cast included (listed in speaking order): Andrew Rohrer, Mary Mazziotti, Martha Jacobs, Robin Lamont, Robert Miller, , Stanley King, Randy Danson, James Stevens, and with original music by Duane Bolick. This version was performed at Carnegie Mellon in 1970 by students from Carnegie Mellon's Theatre Department.
1971: La MaMa and off-BroadwayThe show was then brought to the attention of producers Edgar Lansbury (brother of ), Joseph Beruh, and Stuart Duncan by Carnegie Mellon alumnus and associate producer , who wanted to transfer the show to off-Broadway. The show was first produced at La Mama as a play with original music for eight songs by Duane Bolick, Jeffrey Mylett, who added one of his songs ("The Raven and The Swan") and Peggy Gordon and Jay Hamburger, who added "By My Side". The producers then hired Stephen Schwartz, another Carnegie Mellon alumnus, to re-score the show. Schwartz's score incorporated a variety of , including , , , and . "By My Side", written by Carnegie Mellon students Jay Hamburger and Peggy Gordon, was kept from the original score. As in the original score, most of the lyrics not written by Schwartz were from the Episcopal . The show opened as a musical at the on May 17, 1971. It transferred to the Promenade Theatre three months later, and closed on June 13, 1976, after 2,124 performances at the Promenade. This production was directed by Tebelak, and the original cast included , Peggy Gordon, , Joanne Jonas, Robin Lamont, , Gilmer McCormick, , Stephen Nathan, and Herb Braha (Simon)."''Godspell'', 1971–1976"
1971: Melbourne, AustraliaThe first production after the off-Broadway show opened at the Playbox Theatre in on November 15, 1971. The cast included , Collette Mann, Christopher Pate, and George Spartels. The producers, Aztec Services and Williamson Edgley Theatres, opened a second production in on April 10, 1972. , , and Marty Rhone were in the Sydney production. Melbourne played 504 performances and Sydney played 507 before the two companies went on tour, performing another 700 shows.
1971: London, England''Godspell'' opened at the in , on November 17, 1971. This London production featured Jacquie-Ann Carr, , , Neil Fitzwiliam, Jeremy Irons, Verity-Anne Meldrum, Deryk Parkin, Tom Saffery, Gay Soper, and Marti Webb. After a successful run at the Roundhouse Theatre, the production transferred to the Wyndham's Theatre, also in London, on January 26, 1972. with Barry Stokes (actor), Barry Stokes.
1972: Washington, D.C.The Washington, D.C. production of ''Godspell'', at Ford's Theater, ran from 1972 into 1973. The cast consisted of Bart Braverman, Bartley Braverman, Scotch Byerley, Baillie Gerstein, Tony Hoty, Maggie Hyatt, D'Jamin Bartlett, Doris Jamin, Irving Allen Lee, Irving Lee, Dean Pitchford, John-Ann Washingson and Lynne Thigpen.
1972: TorontoThe 1972–1973 Toronto production opened at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and was intended to be a run of a few dozen performances for a Subscription business model, subscription audience. The cast was drawn entirely from local performers, instead of a touring cast. After an enthusiastic response from the audience, the scheduled run at the Royal Alexandra ended and the show moved uptown to the Bayview Playhouse in Leaside. The Bayview Playhouse production ran until August 1973, with a then-record run of 488 performances. The Toronto production launched the careers of many actors, including Victor Garber, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Dave Thomas (actor), Dave Thomas, and Martin Short, as well as the show's musical director, Paul Shaffer. Howard Shore played saxophone for this production.
1973: Maseru (Lesotho, Southern Africa)Godspell opened in Maseru, Lesotho in 1973 and ran for five months. When Des and Dawn Lindberg brought the show to the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), it was immediately banned on the grounds of blasphemy. The ban was widely recognized as a political response to the depiction of racial mixing, which presented a direct challenge to apartheid in South Africa. The Lindbergs challenged the ban in the Supreme Court and won their case. As a result, ''Godspell'' toured South Africa for two years and opened doors to all races on both sides of the footlights. This production was both a theatrical triumph and a political and legal breakthrough.
1976: BroadwayThe first Broadway production opened on June 22, 1976, at the Broadhurst Theatre. It was directed by John Michael Tebelak, with Steve Reinhardt as Music director, musical director, costumes by Susan Tsu, lighting by Spencer Mosse, and sound by Robert Minor. The opening cast featured , Laurie Faso, Lois Foraker, Robin Lamont, Elizabeth Lathram, Bobby Lee, Tom Rolfing, Don Scardino, Marley Sims, and Valerie Williams. Kerin Blair, Bob Garrett, Michael Hoit, and Kitty Rea were understudies. The band consisted of Paul Shaffer (keyboards, conductor), Mark Zeray (guitar), Chris Warwin (bass), and Michael Redding (percussion). The show transferred to the Plymouth Theatre, then to the Ambassador Theatre (New York), Ambassador Theatre, where it closed on September 4, 1977, after 5 previews and 527 performances.
1981: La MaMa revivalTen years after the original production of ''Godspell'' and twenty years after the theater's founding, the musical was revived at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Manhattan. Tebelak directed the 1981 production, with Robert Stecko as musical directed. The cast included , Kerin Blair, R. Bruce Connelly, Michael Hoit, Paul Kreppel, , Melanie Mayron, Marilyn Pasekoff, Leslie Ann Ray, and Jeremy Sage, with Danny Rutigliano as understudy. John Michael Tebelak then flew to Los Angeles where a west coast 10th anniversary reunion production was staged featuring original cast members Peggy Gordon, Stephen Nathan, Herb Braha, Jeffrey Mylett, Gilmer McCormick and David Haskell, with Marley Sims, Patti Mariano, Jeannie Lange, Bob Garrett and original musical director Stephen Reinhardt.
1988: Off-BroadwayThe Lamb's Theatre revival ran from June 12 through December 31, 1988. It was directed by Don Scardino, with Steven M. Alper as musical director and Doug Besterman as assistant musical director, and with new musical arrangements by Steven M. Alper and Doug Besterman. Costumes were by David C. Woolard, lighting was by Phil Monat, and sound was by T. Richard Fitzgerald. The cast included Trini Alvarado, Anne Bobby (credited as Anne Marie Bobby), Bill Damaschke, Laura Dean (actress), Laura Dean, Angel Jemmott, Eddie Korbich, Mia Korf, Robert McNeill, Harold Perrineau, (credited as Harold Perrineau Jr.), and Jeffrey Steefel.
2000: Off-Broadway''Godspell'' was revived off-Broadway at the York Theatre from August 2 to October 7, 2000. Cast members included Shoshana Bean, Tim Cain, Catherine Cox, Will Erat, Barrett Foa, Lucia Giannetta, Capathia Jenkins, Chad Kimball, Leslie Kritzer and Eliseo Roman.
2011: Broadway revivalThe first Broadway revival opened for previews on October 13, 2011, at the Circle in the Square Theatre, and officially opened on November 7, 2011, to mixed reviews. Theatre review aggregator ''Curtain Critic'' gave the production a score of 63/100, based on the opinions of eighteen critics. The production featured Hunter Parrish, Wallace Smith, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Celisse Henderson, Telly Leung, George Salazar, Morgan James, Uzo Aduba, Nick Blaemire, and Lindsay Mendez, and was directed by Daniel Goldstein, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, and produced by Ken Davenport. On April 17, 2012, Corbin Bleu took over the role of Jesus. The 2011 cast recording was released digitally on December 20, 2011, and in stores on January 31, 2012. The production closed on June 24, 2012.
2020: Berkshire Theatre GroupGodspell became the first live show to be approved by the Actors' Equity Association during the COVID-19 pandemic. This production, which was performed in a tent in the Berkshire Theatre Group's parking lot, featured Nicholas Edwards, Tim Jones, Alex Getlin, Michael Wartella, Zach Williams, Dan Rosales, Brandon Lee, Emily Koch, Isabel Jordan, Najah Hetsberger and Kimberly Emmanuel. Instead of the standard opening to the show, which features the song, "Tower of Babble," the actors of the show shared how their lives were uniquely impacted by the pandemic. The show, which had the audience sitting ten feet away from the actors on stage (who were socially distanced themselves) required that every audience member wear a facial covering for the duration of the performance. This production brought up the possibility of more socially distanced theatrical productions in the future. The show ran from August 6, 2020, until September 20, 2020.
''Godspell, Jr.''Part of 's Broadway Junior series, ''Godspell Junior'' is a revised script to be performed by a younger cast. ''Godspell Junior'' contains much of the first act and very little of the second. In the hour-long one-act show, four songs are cut: "Turn Back, O Man", "Alas for You", "By My Side", and "On the Willows". "Beautiful City" with updated lyrics is a part of the show, placed at the beginning of the second act, and is immediately followed by the Last Supper, the Betrayal, and the Crucifixion.
1973 filmA Godspell (film), film version of the musical was released in 1973, set in modern New York City, New York and featuring Victor Garber (from the first Canadian cast) as , (from the original cast) as /Judas Iscariot, Judas, and Lynne Thigpen. Tebelak co-wrote the screenplay and served as creative consultant for the film. The song "Beautiful City" was written for and first included in the film. "Prologue: Tower Of Babel" was omitted, and "Learn Your Lessons Well" and "We Beseech Thee" were reduced to minor interludes. Original cast members Robin Lamont, Gilmer McCormick, Joanne Jonas, and also appear in the film.
ControversyThe hippie clothing that the cast wears in the play has caused some controversy. In his "Notes on the Script" (1999), Stephen Schwartz wrote, "There are often misconceptions about the concept of the clown analogy in ''Godspell''. For instance, sometimes cast members are thought to be 'hippies' or 'flower children'. The concept was derived by John-Michael Tebelak from a book by Harvey Cox, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, entitled ''Feast of Fools''." There has also been some controversy or confusion over ''Godspells lack of a resurrection scene. This criticism notably mirrors similar criticism leveled at the 1970 rock opera '' '' which also did not depict the resurrection. Rather than be resurrected, Jesus dies in the "Finale", and the cast is typically directed to lift his body over their heads and walk off through the audience to end the show. Schwartz has made a note of this in the script, saying:
Over the years, there has been comment from some about the lack of an apparent Resurrection in the show. Some choose to view the curtain call, in which JESUS appears, as symbolic of the resurrection; others point to the moment when the cast raise JESUS above their heads. While either view is valid, both miss the point. GODSPELL is about the formation of a community which carries on JESUS' teachings after he has gone. In other words, it is the effect JESUS has on the OTHERS which is the story of the show, not whether or not he himself is resurrected. Therefore, it is very important at the end of the show that it be clear that the OTHERS have come through the violence and pain of the crucifixion sequence and leave with a joyful determination to carry on the ideas and feelings they have learned during the course of the show.Though ''Godspell'' was a successful production, much like ''Jesus Christ Superstar'', that began to break down the barriers between rock and roll and Christianity, it was regarded with suspicion by the mainstream evangelical culture because it did not emphasize the religious doctrines of resurrection and atonement. The social statement made by ''Godspell'' when it first premiered was a serious one at a time when Christianity in the United States was being pulled in different directions; interest in mainstream Christianity was dwindling, especially among the youth, who wanted to leave the Church but not Christianity. ''Godspell'' captured this youthful sentiment that reimagined Jesus as a hippie in a more primitive expression of their faith, relating to Jesus not as an object to venerate but as a companion, which contemporary reviewer Clive Barnes described as a "perfectly contemporary and perfectly vulgar concept of peace and goodwill to all men". Barnes called the "whole premise rather nauseating”, a view that was in line with the response in mainline protestant, mainline congregations.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production