Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Godspell" puts Bible to rock

Cleveland Press July 5, 1971

"The Godspell" -- it isn't Shakespeare, it isn't Shaw, it isn't even classical. It is a rock musical drawing on the New Testament for its material. But it is on the schedule of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival.

Former Clevelander John Michael Tebelak, the play's writer and director, has no qualms about using the company assembled by Festival Director Lawrence Carra to stage his show.

"We'll have to find a small rock group to provide the music," he explained in a phone interview from New York, "but I'm sure we can find the people we need in Cleveland."

"But that's a good company right there at the festival, and it can handle everything in the show. We'll have to augment it with another girl or two. We already have Susan Burkhalter signed."

Miss Burkhalter was with the Play House this past season, worked for TebeIak in his summer production of "Cabaret" last year and was in the Great Lakes Festival production of "Comedy of Errors."

If you remember 'Comedy of Errors' at the festival last year you'll recall that there was a great deal of clowning and acrobatics and commedia del arte style in it. It had a high degree of precision. It is basically the same company, and that's why I'm sure it can do 'Godspell,'" he explained.

He explained that "The Godspell" demands an acting style that actors doing contemporary plays have not worked with before, but that performers trained in Shakespeare and other classical drama can take to it easily.

"I need six weeks to rehearse a company for 'Godspell' but all I have with the Cleveland group is 10 days and I'm certain they can do it," Tebelak continued.

"The Godspell" may open in about six other cities by year's end and in each the company will be locally recruited. Currently the show is enjoying a successful run in New York City at the off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theater.

'This fall 'Jesus Christ. Superstar' will be opening," Tebelak said. "There also is one- called 'Jesus Christ' and another called 'Jesus Christ Almighty.' Who can predict what the effect will be? There's likely to be four or five Jesus shows running all at once without being copies of each other.

"I was careful not to listen to the recording of "Jesus Christ, Superstar" before doing 'Godspell.'I didn't want to be influenced."

Tebelak also is involved in the huge stage Mass that Leonard Bernstein has composed and which will be presented at Kennedy Center in September. He is serving as consultant and stage manager.

"Bernstein picked me after he saw a performance of 'Godspell.' It's his first major piece of music in 15 years. It's based on the Latin Mass, but it is a new form of theater. There will be 235 people in it and it will be a mixture of Mass and social fantasy, an interplay between common man and his society.

"I think there is a new interest in religion because after so many years of non-believing, young people are rediscovering religion and trying to use it in a constructive form. People are breaking away from organized churches and looking for ancient forms. They want once again to make a Joyful noise."