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Godspell (21-Mar-1973)

Director: David Greene

Writers: David Greene; John-Michael Tebelak

Based on a book: Godspell: A Musical Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew by John-Michael Tebelak

Music and Lyrics by: Stephen Schwartz

Producer: Edgar Lansbury

Keywords: Musical, Bible, Rock Opera, Hippies

NameOccupationBirthDeathKnown for
Victor Garber
16-Mar-1949   Jack Bristow on Alias
David Haskell
4-Jun-1948 30-Aug-2000 Godspell
Lynne Thigpen
22-Dec-1948 12-Mar-2003 Godspell


Victor Garber   ...   Jesus
Katie Hanley   ...   Katie
David Haskell   ...   John / Judas
Merrell Jackson   ...   Merrell
Joanne Jonas   ...   Joanne
Robin Lamont   ...   Robin
Gilmer McCormick   ...   Gilmer
Jeffrey Mylett   ...   Jeffrey
Jerry Sroka   ...   Jerry
Lynne Thigpen   ...   Lynne


Review by anonymous (posted on 21-Sep-2006)

Like its predecessor "Hair", "Godspell" may be one of those stage shows that really only works well onstage. And like Milos Forman's film version of "Hair" (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Norman Jewison's film version of "Jesus Christ Superstar"), David Greene's film of the 1971 Off-Off-Broadway hit "Godspell" is a seriously flawed film with some truly transcendent moments. Anecdotally, I have found that fans of the original cast album almost invariably hate this film. I am a huge fan of the original cast album, but the movie was the first performance of "Godspell" I ever saw (at about the age of 15), so the movie "Godspell", in a sense, IS "Godspell" for me; and while I acknowledge its flaws (and they are many), I will love it until I die, as a mother loves her somewhat dull-witted child. First the good news: With rare exception, the performances of the 10-member cast are consistently delightful. Victor Garber (from the legendary Toronto production of "Godspell" that launched the careers of Gilda Radner, Martin Short and musician Paul Schaeffer) is pale and pretty as the Jesus-clown, all fine features and flame-red 'fro (Ronald McDonald as designed by Botticelli), and he brings to the table a pleasant (if wispy) tenor and a nice flair for physical comedy. Not every young actor could look that good with a valentine heart painted on his forehead. David Haskell embodies the John the Baptist/Judas role (a role he originated) with a mischievous twinkle and scruffy masculinity. Robin Lamont reprises "Day By Day" (a Top 40 hit from the Off-Broadway cast album) and it's if anything even more radio-ready than the original (though this one didn't chart). Merrell Jackson (a handsome, lanky black man with yet another huge, fluffy Afro) brings his angelic voice and yummy R&B chops to "All Good Gifts" and turns in the quintessential version of that number. The bad news? Mercy, where to begin? The biggest glitch is an essential one: this is a wide-screen movie and not an intimate, small-venue stage production. A band of hippy-clowns on stage is one thing -- a band of hippy-clowns skipping through an eerily deserted New York City circa 1972, is just plain weird. And these young adults do skip. I mean, constantly. In lieu of walking. They giggle, and leapfrog, and generally behave like some grownup's idea of how small children behave, and it makes them look either high as paper kites, or (and I need a word that won't offend anybody) simple. And despite this being a musical (people sing and dance to an invisible orchestra), we have come to expect a certain level of "reality" in film; so when a bunch of New York "types" (a cab driver, a dance student, an aspiring model) drop what they're doing and follow a shofar-tooting clown (even one as appealing as Haskell) into a junk yard, proceed to perform a 90-minute passion play, and finally disappear into a suddenly-populated city, one may well find one's self asking, Where did they go? Will the waitress get her job back? I personally would love to know what possessed Greene to hire Joanne Jonas from the original New York cast, and then take away her song ("Bless the Lord") and saddle her with "Turn Back, O Man", for which she was supremely unsuited in voice and demeanor. Or to hire Jeffrey Mylett and then take away his song, "We Beseech Thee", putting the limp flower-child anthem "Beautiful City" in its place, and leaving him with precious little to do except toot the recorder in "All Good Gifts". Or to hire Jerry Sroka (whose constant mugging leaves one with the desire to take hostages) at all. Perhaps at this point in history, the most emotional moment in "Godspell" comes when the cast are spotted performing "All for the Best" atop the as-yet-unfinished twin towers of the World Trade Center, lending the hymn-as-vaudeville-turn a bittersweetness unimagined by the film maker or the performers.

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