This article is about the musical. For the musical's album, see Godspell (1971 Off-Broadway Cast). For the movie and its soundtrack, see Godspell (film).
Godspell is a musical by Stephen Schwartz and a book by John-Michael Tebelak. It opened off Broadway on May 17, 1971, and has played in various touring companies and revivals many times since, including a 2011 revival which played on Broadway from October 13, 2011, to June 24, 2012. Several cast albums have been released over the years and one of its songs, "Day by Day" from the original cast album, reached #13 on the Billboard pop singles chart in the summer of 1972.
The structure of the musical is that of a series of parables, mostly based on the Gospel of Matthew (three of the featured parables are recorded only in the Gospel of Luke). The parables are interspersed with a variety of modern music set primarily to lyrics from traditional hymns, with the passion of Christ treated briefly near the end of the performance. It started as a college project performed by students at Carnegie Mellon University and moved to La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Greenwich Village. It was then re-scored for an off-Broadway production which became a long-running success. A junior one-act version with some songs and monologues removed has also been made under the title Godspell Junior.
The show originated in 1970 as Tebelak's master's thesis project, under the direction of Lawrence Carra, at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A version was performed at Carnegie Mellon in 1970, with several of the cast members from the CMU Music Department. Tebelak then directed the show, with much of the student cast, for a two week, ten performance run at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club (aka Cafe la Mama), New York City, opening February 24, 1971. It was brought to the attention of producers Edgar Lansbury (brother of Angela Lansbury), Joseph Beruh, and Stuart Duncan by Carnegie alumnus Charles Haid (associate producer), who wanted to open it Off-Broadway.
The producers hired Stephen Schwartz, another alumnus of Carnegie Mellon's theater department, to write a new song score. Schwartz's songs incorporated a variety of musical styles, from pop to folk rock, gospel, and vaudeville. One song, "By My Side", written by CMU students Jay Hamburger and Peggy Gordon, was kept from the original score. As with the original score, most of the non-Schwartz lyrics were from the Episcopal Hymnal (see also the 1971 Off-Broadway run).
All ten actors are on stage throughout the show.
The original cast defined the personalities of each character as the show was developed. Most of the characters' names are simply the first name of the actor, so the characters are more easily identified by the song they sing. The actor cast as John the Baptist doubles in the show as Judas Iscariot.
The show begins with the Voice of God declaring his supremacy: "My name is Known: God and King. I am most in majesty, in whom no beginning may be and no end." The company enters and takes the role of various philosophers throughout the ages (often this section of the play is excluded): Socrates; Thomas Aquinas; Martin Luther; Leonardo da Vinci; Edward Gibbon; Jean-Paul Sartre; Friedrich Nietzsche; and Buckminster Fuller. In the 2001 revival, Luther, Gibbon, Nietzsche, and Fuller were replaced by Galileo Galilei, Jonathan Edwards, L. Ron Hubbard, and Marianne Williamson, respectively. The 2011 revival retains Galilei, Hubbard, and Williamson, but restores Gibbon and replaces da Vinci with Georg Hegel. They sing fragments of their respective philosophies -- first as solos and then in cacophonous counterpoint -- in "Tower of Babble (Prologue)". In some productions, "Tower of Babble" is replaced by "Beautiful City", which Jesus sings to open the show. In still other productions, the company cuts Tower of Babble and Beautiful City, opting to begin with "Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord)".
In response to the philosophers, John the Baptist blows three notes on the shofar to call the community to order. He then beckons them to "Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord)", and baptizes the company. Jesus comes, also to be baptized. John responds by, instead, asking to be baptized by Jesus. Jesus explains that it is not his place to baptize; that he has come to "Save the People".
In his first parable, Jesus explains to the company that he has come "not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to complete". In the original production, the company donned clown makeup at this point. Subsequent productions may instead use some object--a pin, a scarf, a badge, or a flower, for example--to denote that the company has become followers of Jesus. Jesus explains to the company that those who adhere to the law of God will earn the highest place in the Kingdom of God. He tells them the parable of the Widow and the Judge. God is a just jurist who will support those who cry out to him.
The company begins to understand Jesus and his teachings, and they take it upon themselves to tell the story of the Pharisees and the tax gatherer praying in the temple: "Every man who humbles himself shall be exalted!"
As Jesus teaches of the law regarding the offering of gifts at the altar, the company makes offerings--themselves. They are taught that to approach the altar of God, they must be pure of heart and soul.
Then, they act out the 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 member of the company telling the parable sings "Day by Day", and the company 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 company then plays charades (in the current production, with members from the audience) 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....".
Then, a cast member comes forward after charades saying: "You wanna see a show?" The company performs the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the form of a play-within-a-play. Jesus explains the need to "love your enemies", and "not make a show of religion before men". He goes on to say: "God will reward a good deed done in secret." ("Shhh! It's a secret!")
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is next tackled by the company, who are quickly learning how to work together. 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. We are 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 company 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. She sings "Bless the Lord," then Jesus tells them not to worry about tomorrow: "Tomorrow will take care of itself. Today has problems of its own."
In an antiphonic chorus, the company recites the Beatitudes. Judas, however, 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, with this Jesus persuades the company that it is "All for the Best"; heaven contains the ultimate reward. Judas sings a verse, and the two do a soft shoe and a vaudevillian joke. The company, and chorus if used, join in the final verse (sung in counterpoint) to bring the song to conclusion.
This is followed by the parable of the Sower of the Seeds, which Jesus tells them represent the Word of God. "All Good Gifts" is sung to further illustrate the point.
The action to this point, while amusing and entertaining, has been to do one thing--create from this rag-tag company a community of love and caring. At this point in the musical, they have formed this community and they now march as soldiers in the military, signifying their ability to think as one unit. With Jesus as the drill sergeant, they segue into the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son. They sing "Light of the World" about Christ's Light and how it should shine in each of us.
Jesus has just thanked the audience for coming, and announces a ten-minute intermission.
During the intermission, there are a couple of things that happen involving the audience. In the original production, the cast joined the audience for wine and bread. In the current Broadway production, wine is offered to the audience on-stage.
After this, the second act opens with one or more cast members singing "Learn Your Lessons Well", to call the audience back into the hall.
After the reprise of "Learn Your Lessons Well", a member of the community sings "Turn Back, O Man", in which she implores mankind to give up its temporal pursuits and to turn to God. Then, Jesus says: "This is the beginning."
At this point, several members of the community 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 Pharisees continue to question him, and he laments "Alas for You", and calls them hypocrites. Members of the community gather and join in his song, and throw garbage at the Pharisees.
Jesus predicts that he will not be seen for quite a while, while standing at the "Wailing Wall", and predicts great wars and famines. He reminds us of the time of Noah, and teaches that faith can calm the storm. The community is told: "Keep awake, then. For the Son of Man will come at a time when you least expect it."
One woman is cast out as an adulteress. 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 sheep and goats. 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 community reminds each other to take things "Day By Day", as they remove their clown makeup (or other accoutrement). They assemble for the Last Supper, and Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him. Each member of the community 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 and 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 company members. He asks that they wait for him as he goes into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.
In the garden, Jesus implores God that if there is another way, to let the burden be lifted from his shoulders. 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 Peter). Jesus then prays to God that if his death cannot pass him by, then His will must be done. He is then tempted by Satan (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, 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 crucified. 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 just him alone and 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 dying," and the community answers: "Oh, God, You're dying." Jesus dies and the music comes to a rest. The women of the company sing "Long Live God", and the men join in with "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" in counterpoint, as they remove Jesus from the fence and carry him out (either offstage or through the aisles of the auditorium). There is controversy over the fact that there is no obvious Resurrection of Jesus present in the show, although it can be interpreted that either the singing of "Prepare Ye" in the finale or else the curtain call (where all including Jesus return to the stage) as representative of the resurrection. Some productions have placed the song "Beautiful City" after the finale to show the Resurrection. However, in the MTI script, it states that while either view is valid, both miss the point, claiming the show is about love, not whether or not Jesus himself is resurrected.
Opening (Monologue) - Jesus ៛ ‡,
Prologue: Towers of Babble - Company ‡,
Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord - John the Baptist and Company,
Save the People - Jesus and Company,
Day By Day - Soloist 1 and Company,
Learn Your Lessons Well - Soloist 2, Jesus, and Company,
O Bless the Lord - Soloist 3 and Company,
All for the Best - Jesus, Judas, and Company,
All Good Gifts - Soloist 4 and Company,
Light of the World - Soloist 5 and Company,
Learn Your Lessons Well (Reprise) - Company ‡,
Turn Back, O Man - Soloist 6 and Company,
Alas for You - Jesus,
By My Side - Soloist 7 and Company,
Beautiful City - Jesus †,
We Beseech Thee - Soloist 8 and Company,
Day By Day (Reprise) - Company,
On The Willows - Judas/The Band §,
Finale - Jesus and Company,
‡ These songs were not part of the original cast album.
៛ According to the script the opening monologue is usually spoken by the actor playing Jesus.
† See notes below on "Beautiful City"
§ In various scripts and programs, "On The Willows" is sung by the live band. In the 2011 revival, it was sung by the actor playing Judas.
"Beautiful City" was written in 1972 as part of the film and re-written in 1993 after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Its position in the film is directly after "By My Side", which in turn follows directly on from "Alas for You", omitting the parable in between. This introduces a sequence in which Jesus overturns the tables at the Temple before the Pharisees. Fearful of reprisals for what he has done, he then flees, followed by the disciples, who ask, "Where are you going? Can you take me with you?" and they are reunited with Jesus, and sing "Beautiful City".
Many theatrical directors choose to use it in place of the "Day by Day" reprise. "Beautiful City" has also been used at the very end of the play in an additional dialogue-free scene that depicts the Resurrection, which was not depicted in the original.
In their Broadway Junior series -- popular musicals edited to one act and appropriate for middle school -- Music Theater International supplies "Beautiful City" as part of the show. This version contains much of the first act and very little of the second: "By My Side" is omitted entirely. "Beautiful City" is at a point in the beginning of the traditional second act, but followed quickly by the Last Supper, the Betrayal, and the Crucifixion.
The 2011 Broadway revival places "Beautiful City" between "We Beseech Thee" and the Last Supper, sung as a slow ballad by Jesus to his followers. In some versions, Jesus sings it; in others, it is given to a soloist or not included at all.
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) (1970):
The first Godspell cast at CMU in 1970, listed in speaking order: Andrew Rohrer, Mary Mazziotti, Martha Jacobs, Robin Lamont, Robert Miller, Sonia Manzano, Stanley King, Randy Danson, James Stevens, David Haskell.
Original LaMama and Off-Broadway (1971):
The show was first presented at Cafe LaMama as a non-musical play. Songs were added by Schwartz and it then opened as a musical at the Cherry Lane Theatre on May 17, 1971, transferred to the Promenade Theatre three months later, and closed on June 13, 1976, after 2124 performances. Directed by Tebelak, the original cast included Lamar Alford, Peggy Gordon, David Haskell, Joanne Jonas, Robin Lamont, Sonia Manzano, Gilmer McCormick, Jeffrey Mylett, Stephen Nathan, and Herb Simon. The band consisted of Jesse Cutler on guitar and bass, Richard Labonti on bass, Stephen Reinhardt on keyboards, and Ricky Shutter on drums and percussion.
Godspell opened at the Roundhouse Theatre in Chalk Farm, London on 17 November 1971, starring Johanna Cassidy, Julie Covington, David Essex, Neil Fitzwilliam, Jeremy Irons, Verity-Anne Meldrum, Deryk Parkin, Tom Saffery, Gay Soper and Marti Webb. After a very successful run it transferred to the Wyndhams Theatre on 26 January 1972.
The Toronto production in 1972-1973, which opened at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, was expected to be a run of a few dozen performances for what was largely an audience of subscribers to the theater's season. The Toronto run had a cast drawn entirely from local performers instead of from a touring company. After an enthusiastic response from the audience, the show moved uptown to the Bayview Playhouse in Leaside after its scheduled run at the Royal Alex ended and ran until August 1973, setting what was then a record run of 488 performances.
The Toronto production provided the first regular acting jobs for several notable performers, including Victor Garber, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Dave Thomas, and Martin Short, and the show's musical director Paul Shaffer.
Maseru (Lesotho, Southern Africa) (1973):
Godspell opened in Maseru, Lesotho in 1973 and ran there for 5 months. When Des and Dawn Lindberg brought it to South Africa to open at the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) Great Hall, it was immediately banned, ostensibly on the grounds of "blasphemy". This banning was widely and immediately recognised as a political smoke-screen for the real issue of racial mixing, a direct challenge to the Apartheid laws of the government of the day.
The Lindbergs challenged the banning in the Supreme Court, and won their case.
As a result Godspell toured South Africa for two years, and succeeded in opening doors to all races on both sides of the footlights wherever it played. It was a theatrical triumph, and a political and legal breakthrough.
The first Broadway production opened on June 22, 1976, at the Broadhurst Theatre. It was directed by John Michael Tebelak, musical director Steve Reinhardt, costumes by Susan Tsu, lighting by Spencer Mosse, and sound by Robert Minor. The opening cast featured Lamar Alford, Laurie Faso, Lois Foraker, Robin Lamont, Elizabeth Lathram, Bobby Lee, Tom Rolfing, Don Scardino, Marley Sims, and Valerie Williams. Alternates were Kerin Blair, Bob Garrett, Michael Hoit, and Kitty Ray. The band consisted of Paul Shaffer (Keyboards, Conductor), Mark Zeray (Guitar), Chris Warwin (Bass), and Michael Redding (Percussion).
The musical transferred to the Plymouth Theatre and later to the Ambassador Theatre, where it closed on September 4, 1977, after 527 performances and five previews.
This revival at the Lamb's Theatre ran from June 12 - December 31, 1988. It was directed by Don Scardino, music director Steven M. Alper, assistant music direct Doug Besterman, new musical arrangements by Steven M. Alper and Doug Besterman, costumes by David C. Woolard, lighting by Phil Monat, and sound by T. Richard Fitzgerald. The cast included Trini Alvarado, Anne Bobby (credited as Anne Marie Bobby), Bill Damaschke, Laura Dean (actress), Angel Jemmott, Eddie Korbich, Mia Korf, Robert McNeill, Harold Perrineau, (credited as Harold Perrineau, Jr.), and Jeffrey Steefel.
Godspell was again staged in Johannesburg at the Civic Theatre, in 1994, again produced and choreographed by Des and Dawn Lindberg.
Godspell was revived Off-Broadway at the York Theatre from August 2, 2000, to October 7, 2000. Cast members included Shoshana Bean, Will Erat, Barrett Foa, Capathia Jenkins, Chad Kimball, Mia Korf, Robert McNeill, and Jeffrey Steefel.
The first Broadway revival began performances on October 13, 2011 at the Circle in the Square Theatre and officially opened on November 7, 2011 to mostly negative to mixed reviews. Theatre review aggregator Curtain Critic gave the production a score of 63 out of 100 based on the opinions of 18 critics. Starring Hunter Parrish, Wallace Smith, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Celisse Henderson, Telly Leung, George Salazar, Morgan James, Uzo Aduba, Nick Blaemire and Lindsay Mendez, it is directed by Daniel Goldstein, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, and produced by Ken Davenport. On April 17, 2012, Corbin Bleu took over in the starring role, as Jesus. The 2011 cast recording was released digitally on December 20, 2011, and was released in stores on January 31, 2012. The production closed on June 24, 2012.
As part of Music Theater International's Broadway Junior series, Godspell Junior is a revised script meant to be performed by a younger audience. In this 60 minute one-act, four songs were cut from the script, including "Turn Back, O Man", "Alas for You", "By My Side", and "On the Willows." However, "Beautiful City" with its updated lyrics is a part of the show. It is sung by one of the soloists at the point in what is the beginning of the traditional second act, and followed quickly by the Last Supper, the Betrayal, and the Crucifixion. Godspell Junior contains much of the first act and very little of the second.
A film version of the musical was released in 1973, set in modern New York and starring Victor Garber (of the first Canadian cast) as Jesus, David Haskell (of the original cast) as John the Baptist/Judas, and Lynne Thigpen in her first film role. John-Michael Tebelak co-wrote the screenplay and served as the creative consultant. The song "Beautiful City" was written for and first included in the film. "Prologue/Tower Of Babel" was left out, and "Learn Your Lessons Well" and "We Beseech Thee" were reduced to minor musical interludes. Original cast members Robin Lamont, Gilmer McCormick, Joanne Jonas, and Jeffrey Mylett also appear.
In popular culture:
In the film Meet the Parents, Greg (Ben Stiller) recites "Day by Day" when asked to say grace over his first meal with the family.,
In the book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Ford keeps a copy of Godspell's script in his bag to convince people he's an actor.,
In the film Wet Hot American Summer, "Day by Day" is performed at the camp talent show.,
On the MTV sketch comedy show The State (TV series), the first sketch to feature the recurring characters The Jew, The Italian, and the Red-Head Gay (episode 301) concludes with a musical number that parodies the costumes of Godspell; one member of the company, for example, Ben Garant, wears an Afro wig, Superman T-shirt and suspenders. (But note that on the reverse of the album's CD case, the "S" on the Superman shirt has been replaced by the number five "5".),
On their album Jesus Freak, Christian rock band dc Talk sings a cover version of "Day by Day".,
On their album F♯A♯∞, the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor used a sample of the opening line of "By My Side" for the song "Providence".,
In an episode of King of the Hill where Bobby Hill attends a high school, he is overjoyed to find that the play is being held, as it was banned from his middle school.,
In the film, Scotland, PA, the characters sing "Day by Day" in homage to the 1970s.,
In the novel, How I Paid for College, the main character stars as Jesus in a school production of Godspell.,
In an episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, the employees of Harvey's law firm are so overjoyed at the seeming resurrection of their boss that they break into a song that reprises Godspell.,
In an episode of "So You Think You Can Dance (Season 4)", contestants Joshua Allen and Katee Shean danced to "All for the Best", choreographed by Tyce Diorio.,
In the novel "Fall Musical" of the Drama Club series, the school play is Godspell. One character says, "As you know, it's about Jesus, but you don't have to be a Christian. Stephen Schwartz wrote it, and he's Jewish. Actually, so was Jesus.",
In the second season, first episode of Doctor, Doctor, a character sings a variation of "Day by Day" while playing a cello like a guitar.,
In the fourth season, eighth episode of Ally McBeal, a character sings "Turn Back, O Man" in a bar scene.,
In the second season, fourth episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine, called Oh God, Yes, Christine permits Ritchie to attend church. Ritchie also accompanies Matthew to his Sunday school class, where Matthew and the teacher break into a rendition of "Day by Day" after it's revealed that the teacher had been the understudy for Jesus in Godspell.,
The hippie garb that the cast wears in the play has historically been controversial. In "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."
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license