August 05, 2006

Godspell

I schlepped over to Monmouth tonight to catch the last showing of Godspell. I'm glad I didn't call ahead to reserve a ticket, because they were sold out (all three shows had sold out in advance!), but as it happened someone didn't show up and I was able to claim the very last ticket.

I had never seen it before, and was keen to; I'd heard some of the music and was generally aware of it as a JCS-ish 70s rock opera that retold the Gospel according to St Matthew. Seeing this instance of reinterpreting religious text and subtext into a popular mode made two things clear: why this might ever have seemed like a good idea, and why it might not be a very good idea. It seems nice that it gets people all fired up about Jesus or whatever; but there is a danger that it can somewhat cheapen the religious experience, making it just another rock concert.

Which is not to say the show was without a few powerful moments. There were only a few, unfortunately. Seen simply as spectacle, the picture brightens a bit; there were several beautifully-executed comedic moments, and the music was fabulous. There were a few of the usual suspects up on stage, plus a few I'd not seen before. Jesus, as played by Mike Axtell, had a striking singing voice, and even showed off his piano skills, accompanying two of the numbers himself (including one where he was also the lead singer). I almost feel like the musical talent in this show was squandered, because there was so much unison singing—this cast could have pulled off music considerably more difficult than this.

It sort of made me wish this had just been a musical revue. The non-musical parts were much more hit-or-miss. As I mentioned, there were some powerful moments and many comedic moments, but for the most part the acted parables dragged considerably. There could have been lots of reasons for that, but based on the R-M article about it I'm going to blame the improv nature of the scenes and guess that they just hadn't had enough rehearsal to work out their dramatic/comedic timing. Alas.

I will say this, though: picking Matthew's Gospel for this show was certainly no accident. When the writers were putting it together in the early 70s, Matthew's hippie Jesus was certainly an irresistible show topic, with messages of peace and love laced throughout nearly every parable. The betrayal and death and resurrection, while present, are not the focus. I just wish that the calling-out of the hypocrites and the Pharisees, written 35 years ago and based on a 2000-year-old script, didn't read so strongly as an allegory of our country's current political atmosphere....

"I buy Cosmo occasionally. I get a kick out of finding out what men are really thinking." --Neal Groothuis

Posted by blahedo at 11:58pm on 5 Aug 2006
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