By Kenneth Jones
08 Nov 2000
A cast album of the 2000-2001 national touring company of Godspell will appear Jan. 9, 2001, from DRG Records, the label that gave us revival recordings of Kiss Me, Kate and Out of This World, among others.
The international smash by composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz and book writer John-Michael Tebelak, playfully drawing on — and modernizing — the story of Christ, resurfaced in a non Equity revival tour in September 2000, and dates have been announced through June 2001, by Phoenix Productions.
The disc preserves the fresh arrangements and orchestrations that bring the score out of the hippie era and into the 21st century. The songs are the same, according to production notes, with a slightly modern edge, "such as the music of the Dave Matthews Band or Jewel."
According to the tour's official website (www.godspellontour.com), "The inspiration for the musical arose on a snowy spring Easter Sunday during sunrise service, when John-Michael Tebelak, a long-haired student at Carnegie Mellon University, was stopped and frisked for drugs by a Pittsburgh policeman in the nave of St. Paul's Cathedral. As a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts degree, Tebelak was required to direct a production of a classic or a period piece for his thesis. He asked to be allowed to write his own play for this exercise and, using his Easter Sunday experience, wrote a musical based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Godspell was enthusiastically received. A chance meeting with Ellen Stewart of the Cafe La MaMa in New York paved the way for the musical to move from Carnegie to her Off Off-Broadway theatre for a two-week run. A producer saw Godspell while at La MaMa and offered to do the show Off-Broadway. The show opened Off-Broadway on May 17, 1971, and its success was immediately evident."
The show, which had songs by Carnegie Mellon grad Schwartz, became and international hit, with resident "sitdown" productions in major cities everywhere. The show moved to the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway in 1976 and ran 527 performances.
"Beautiful City," a song that appeared in the show's film version, has been interpolated into the revival. The new tracks include: "Opening," "Tower of Babble," "Prepare Ye," "Save the People," "Day by Day," "Learn Your Lessons Well," "Bless the Lord," "All for the Best," "All Good Gifts," "Light of the World," "Beautiful City," "Turn Back, O Man," "Alas for You," "By My Side," "We Beseech Thee," "Day by Day (Reprise), "On the Willows," "Finale."
Stephen Schwartz offers the following in the CD's liner notes: "When Godspell originally premiered a little over a generation ago, we were in a divisive time in America. It was the height of the Vietnam War and its accompanying 'Generation Gap,' and mistrust and hostility between Americans of different ages, races and political philosophies ran rampant. Thus, the show's message of community-building resonated for audiences of that time. Today, in these early days of a new millennium, we once again find bitter divisions in our society — what some have termed a 'cultural civil war.' Although we have no major crisis such as Vietnam over which to contend, our national discourse has become mean-spirited and fractious, and Americans once again find reasons to hate one another because of differences in race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation or political leaning. In our contemporary civilization, there is a noticeable lack, as writer Scott Peck would put it, of 'civility.' And now, here is this new touring production of Godspell. Director Scott Schwartz's production, set in a junkyard of discarded television sets and computer monitors, makes dazzling use of contemporary technology, from an opening in which philosophers send their contrary opinions flying over the Internet, to its clever employment of closed circuit television cameras, green-screen, and a host of up-to the-minute techniques, jokes and references. And the exciting new musical arrangements by Alex Lacamoire provide perfect state-of-the-art accompaniment. But at its heart, and best of all in my opinion, this is a new generation once again telling a timeless story — how a community is formed around a man with a simple but profound message: 'Always treat others as you would have them treat you' and 'Anything you did not do for one of your brothers here, you did not do for me.' It's a story we all clearly still need to hear."