Godspell contains one of my favorite scores. Growing up enamored as much by Amy Grant and Sandi Patty as Betty Buckley and Jennifer Holliday, Godspell was one of those college discoveries that overwhelmed me and created a connection that still grips me. The production at Loyola University in New Orleans, set in a small room with folding chairs, was clear and powerful and funny and thrilling.
The current Broadway revival fails to capture the nostalgia of two decades ago, but I certainly can’t fault it that—a second affair can’t live up to the thrill of the first time, especially when the emotional memory is stronger than the actual memory.
My biggest challenge with the current production is that it isn’t clear. Had I not known what it was about, I would still be scratching my head. To be fair, the show itself is muddled. Further, the production is almost done in by atrocious sound that, on the night I attended, rendered some actors unintelligible—singing songs for which I know every single word. It is unfortunate because there is a lot of talent on the stage at Circle in the Square.
It is hard to pick a stand out. All the women are solid pop tarts although, with the exception of Uzo Aduba, they sound indistinguishable with the same gospel riffs and upper range wails. Hunter Parrish, as Jesus, lacks the focus and sincerity that made his debut in Spring Awakening so powerful. I can only imagine that he was directed toward the particular spasticity that seems to have taken over his arms and the over-happy, jerky delivery of his lines. Perhaps, it is because he is surrounded by a cast that is very comfortable with the improvisational farce of the script and the mix of simplicity, soaring, and sass of the songs that he doesn’t fare as well in comparison. Perhaps, he needs a little more time in the role to inhabit it comfortably. Perhaps, Jesus is just tough to nail. Parrish’s voice is fine but limited, and the noticeable strain on that particular Sunday night actually gave him a raspy depth that was appealing in the lower register.
The production comes across as a college mounting, a very fine college performance, which isn’t inappropriate. While I caught myself occasionally wondering what might have been in more experienced hands, I had to remind myself that the spirit of this show is rooted in the joyous fumblings of youth and inexperience. Also, it is almost impossible to evaluate the performances and the greater production when you can only hear and understand about sixty percent of the show.
To be fair, my companion that night had seen the show the previous week from the other side of the theater and understood everything and enjoyed the show so much that he couldn’t wait to see it again. Part of the problem is that the band was often too loud, but that was occasional. The mics and sound were the main culprits. Actually, three in the cast reprised a first act number during Intermission with only piano accompaniment, no microphones. It was splendid, and not because the voices were one bit better than that of the actress who performed it during the show—the audible glimpses of her voice were spectacular.
I am not sure this production builds a case for sitting through it, but I would love to hear the cast recording. The show itself delivers on the God but falls short on the spell.