note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
"Godspell" was a sixties phenomenon: it debuted in '71, but it carried the grand themes of the hippie decade: Peace and LOVE. John Michael Tebelak's story was simple --- maybe even simple minded --- but it resonated like crazy with the flower children. After all, Jesus looked like a long-haired hippie freak in all the (European) paintings. Stephen Schwartz' sweet music carried the message in catchy songs you couldn't resist; "Day By Day" even made it to the pop charts.
So someone got the bright idea of reviving "Godspell" and aiming it at the teenagers who made "Rent" a success by seeing it over and over. They even made the characters look like the low-rent denizens of Armageddon. Alex Lacamoire's new arrangements of Schwartz' easy melodies turn the songs into a deafening, percussive roar. The parables are turned into commercials.
Pop culture is Jesus' stock in trade in this updated "Godspell". He's totally immersed (one might say baptized) in designer water. "Blue Man group"-ish cameras record what's happening live on stage and project those proceedings onto a giant screen. Jesus' lessons are now Saturday Night Live bits, and pieces of "virtual reality". He quotes "The Sopranos", "The Blair Witch Project", "Pulp Fiction" the Sock-Dog and "Survivor" --- as if being hip to what sells will win you a place in heaven. The overload is insurmountable.
What works are the songs which haven't been tampered with --- which aren't many. The cast is indeed young and enthusiastic, but we Beseech Thee: Turn Back, O Man to the original version and, please, turn down the volume. It nearly did in this ageing hippie.