Based primarily on the Gospel of Matthew, the musical Godspell follows the story of Jesus as he chooses his followers and shapes a community through his miracles. The play has an exceptional quality of intricately weaving biblical tales into modern day settings, which leads to the expression of community spirit in a very heartfelt manner. Even the regular theatre folks have found Godspell to be a novel experience and that has further boosted the sales of Godspell tickets.
The Inception of the Idea
In 1970, John-Michael Tebelak wrote a story as the final dissertation of his master’s degree. The same year a performance was held at Carnegie Mellon. The next year Tebelak moved on to direct another performance with most actors being college students. That show ran for two weeks in La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City. The amount of appreciation that the play received attracted several producers and finally lead Godspell to open Off-Broadway.
Stephen Schwartz- a University fellow of Tebelak- was hired to write new songs for the play as well. The music by Schwartz included several musical styles including gospel, folk-rock, pop as well as vaudeville. From the very first appearance all ten actors that make up the entire cast of the musical and perform on the stage throughout the duration of the performance.
The musical begins with the Voice of God declaring His ultimate supremacy and majesty. The company of actors then enters the show and assumes the characters of different renowned philosophers throughout the ages. The featured philosophers primarily include Martin Luther, Socrates, Friedrich Nietzsche, Galileo Galilei, Ron Hubbard and a few more. The actors portraying these characters sing portions of their philosophies.
In response to the philosophers, Jesus- a wandering minstrel dressed more or less like a clown- calls the community back to order. By blowing a trumpet, the sound of which reaches only a few, the word of God and the declarations of Christ are spread. John the Baptist- or Judas- is another character working in the way of God who summons nine simpatico hippies and revel them into the waters of Baptism. The story then follows the actual course of events but in a much modern day setting to which audiences can easily relate to. All in all Godspell is a materialization of certain stories as explained by the Gospel of St. Matthews which are certain to leave a deep impact on audiences of all ages.
The first Godspell performance was held at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1970. In 1971 the musical was taken Off-Broadway after a greatly successful premier at La MaMa Theater in New York City. The same year Godspell also opened in London at the Roundhouse Theatre. Toronto also staged the musical in 1972, which also marked the first regular acting jobs for a number of notable performers of that time.
Godspell finally made it to Broadway in1976, and premiered at the Broadhurst Theater. It moved to many other Broadway destinations also and completed a total of 527 performances. The year 2000 saw the Off-Broadway appearance of Godspell once again followed by re-emergence on Broadway the next year. Considering the beauty and depth of the play it is hardly a surprise to see such extensive repertoire of the musical in such a short span of time. Even today Godspell tickets are among the most sought after choices and the production always makes sure that the audiences get more than what they expected.