Godspell is a really, really tough show to pull off. The story of the last few days of Christ’s life is familiar to musical theatre audiences through Jesus Christ Superstar, of course, but this 1971 Off-Broadway hit by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) and John-Michael Tebelak is a completely different take on the story.
Told as a series of very anarchic scenes depicting the Parables, with the songs serving as a respite for the audience, and highlighting the emotions, rather than moving the plot forward, this musical provides a real challenge to any director and their cast.
I am very pleased to say that, largely, Stratford Musical Theatre pulled it off in this vibrant and touching performance for Easter week at the RSC’s, The Other Place, a small 200 seat black box space.
The company was excellently led by the charismatic Connor Clemons in the very taxing role of Jesus. Part leading man, part MC, part comic, part tragedian, this is a role that can be difficult for very experienced performers to pull off.
Leading a very young ensemble cast Clemons demonstrated great presence and timing, as well as a delicate but strong voice, ideal to Schwartz’s folk-rock score. And anyone who can pull off an initial entrance into a show as Clemons was asked to do certainly has balls!
As Judas / John the Baptist William Gorst provided a suitably sonorous foil. Equally at home in the slapstick sketches, or delivering the coup de graçe the climax of this story requires Gorst was a physical and emotional presence more than up to the task.
The rest of the 11-strong ensemble worked their socks off. The energy and commitment they threw at the series of often farcical parables was a wonder to behold. It is a complete credit to them and director Alan Gill that the reactions between the actors on opening night was pin sharp. Clearly they had worked very closely together on setting the scenes, and I would not be at all surprised if it turned out that the director had allowed the cast a lot of input in workshopping these scenes, so exceptional was the timing of the verbal and physical comedy. Not a trick was missed with the staging; 2 boxes and 2 planks became a table, a slide, a jail, a puppet theatre, the entrance to both Heaven and Hell, and the stage for a vaudeville Cane & Soft Shoe routine.
The vocals displayed by the company was generally strong, with Karen Welsh and Lauren Rensy-Clarke’s duet for On the Willows a particular highlight, and harmonies secure for the most part.
Overall, this show was a huge credit to SMTC's cast and production team. The 4-piece band was led by Musical Director Gary Lewis, and Choreography by Julie Bedlow-Howard. It was well received on opening night, with some audience members on their feet.
This show deserves to do well this week.
Godspell runs at The Other Place until Saturday 2 April.
Love Midlands Theatre
Sharing the latest theatre news and reviews around the Midlands.