October 24, 2011
by Bowie Snodgrass
Like the kids in Glee, being part of a musical theater group in middle and high school helped me find a place where I fit in. And growing up a priest’s daughter, being in Godspell at age 14 made me feel like Jesus could be fun and cool.
Godspell shaped my teenage theology. There are still passages of Matthew that I hear and think of the corresponding Godspell scene, joke, or song; lyrics I see in the Episcopal hymnal and my mind clicks over to the Stephen Schwarz melody.
Godspell is an ensemble piece about Jesus’ love for his people, their love for him, and how Jesus teaches them to love each other (above money, hypocrisy, grievances, etc). “Come sing about Love! That made us first to be. Come sing about Love! That made the stone and tree. Come sing about Love! That draws us lovingly.” “So thank the Lord, Oh thank the Lord for all his love.” “Day by day, Three things I pray: To see thee more clearly, Love thee more dearly, Follow thee
more nearly, Day by day.” It’s sincere and simple (very little modern-day irony or Broadway glitz).
I really did love the rest of my troupe in the Olean Theater Workshop when I was 14 and twenty years later, we’re still friends, many now parents, some in ministry, spread-out and in touch via Facebook.
The show was already twenty years old when I was in it in the 90s. I used to listen to my parent’s copy of the original Broadway soundtrack on vinyl.
I knew the new production would need to improve upon the thousands of high school, college, and community theater productions out there for it to be worthy of a Broadway revival. And it was. Amazing. It kept most of the beloved original material, yet felt completely fresh with up-to-date cultural references and dance moves.
In last night’s production, lines struck me with new power. Lyrics resonated deeper. I cried, laughed, and clapped (in that order).
A few people I went with commented that Jesus was blond and John the Baptist/Judas was black, but I was struck by the diversity of the rest of the young cast: Latino, Asian, African American, Jewish, gay, straight, thick and thin. They looked like NYC and America. And it felt like they really loved each other.
In a Playbill interview about Godspell, composer and lyricist Stephen Schwarz says, “there’s a joy that comes from the story and also from the theatrical experience… actors and energy and words and music and the exhilaration that the theatre provides.”
I pray this production runs a long, long time, so that a new generation can be exhilarated by a fun, cool Jesus musical. And I want to go back once or twice more!