Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Godspell" wins critic's blessing......"Godspell" full of parables, joy

Cleveland Press August 12, 1971

Blessed are the joyous entertainers for they shall have fun, profit and applause. Blessed is "Godspell" for il will fill Lakewood Civic Hall to over flowing. Blessed is John Michael Tebelak for making the gospel according to St. Matthew as catchy as it must have been almost 2000 years ago.

"Godspell" which opened last night as the fourth production of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, is a religious rock musical which should have been enough to turn me off going in.

If there is one thing I figured I didn't need it was a religious rock musical. Right? Well, wrong. I not only enjoyed it, I came away feeling just the thing I happened to need right now was a religious rock musical.

"Godspell" is irreverent without being either sacrilegious or blasphemous. It is cheerfully irreverent, high spirited, joyous. It says, in effect: "Hey, if you don't dig what St. Matthew scribbled, listen to it this way."

This way happens to be in the form of a circus, a stage filled with young clowns in crazy clothes and painted faces.

Jesus has a red heart painted in the middle of his forehead and wears a Superman shirt. John the Baptist baptizes with a kitchen sponge.

Let's hear it for the master," the crowd yells as Jesus gives them the parable of the master and the bad servant. He tells them about the rich man storing away his corn and popcorn and Tuna Surprise and M&M's. When Jesus stops them from stoning the adulteress by telling them that the one without fault should throw first, one of them can't help muttering, "Spoil sport."

Maybe it will bother you that Jesus and John the Baptist do a soft shoe routine. I thought it was delightful.

"Oh boy, you have little faith," the master admonishes -- and why shouldn't he say it that way?

All this is nicely adorned by more than a dozen pleasant and sometimes moving songs by Stephen Schwartz. The songs are a mixture of rock, folk, pop and Broadway.

The ten performers, five male and five female, are all wonderful -- adept at clowning, at pantomime and at singing. The latter ranges from adequate to excellent. Jesus is played by Bruce Gray and John by Robert Englund, but everyone is very, very good.

"Godspell" works best when staying with the parables which it does in the first half, less well when it finally gets around to the Passion. The Last Supper and the Crucifixion, are effectively done but are not of a piece with the rest of the work. But this is a minor flaw and a short one.

The strength of "Godspell" is not so much in the music, Iyrics, performances -- all good -- or even in the book which follows Matthew pretty closely. It is in the direction of Tebelak who conceives the show in terms of constant, unflagging, inspired movement.

"Godspell" is pantomime, pratfalls and slight of hand. It is grunts, gasps and groans. The seed falls upon poor ground and dies (groans and limpness). The seed falls among weeds and is choked (gasping as hands clutch throats). "Godspell', is dancing and more dancing.

Except for a few minutes, it never takes itself seriously except that it is serious about love. It is a very loving show and while it sometimes exhibits evangelist fervor it is never in anger. This is not a message of anger, but of love.