Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Godspell Revival on Broadway

Don't listen to the naysayers. I was at opening night of Godspell on Broadway and found it uplifting, hilarious and moving. To quote another show, "these are a few of my favorite things. "

Full Disclosure #1: Floyd and I invested a thousand bucks to become "People of Godspell." So, yes, I have a vested interest in the show's success. But we did it not because we had any certainty whether the show would be any good, but just so we could get our names on the poster, which, due my alphabetical advantage, put us directly underneath the "ELL" in the title.

We were also interested in having access to all the investment documents because, sooner or later, we're going to be Broadway producers ourselves.

Full Disclosure #2: I'm friends with Stephen Schwartz, whose son Scott is directing the world premiere of my adaptation of A Room with a View at the Old Globe in San Diego this spring.

Here we are at intermission, after I blathered compliments about the new song arrangements, which totally rock in a way that's totally of the moment.

So feel free to discount anything I say, but the fact is, my connections to the show made me all the more leery about it. What if it sucked? I'd heard mixed things in previews and I was worried the whole thing would feel like college theater games. If the show was lame, I'd have to play the "Choose a Euphemism" game: ("That was really something" or "You did it again!")

I was hugely relieved to discover Godspell on Broadway was the polar opposite of sucky. For starters, it's the kind of theater I love best - simple, evocative, imaginative. I'm not a fan of kitchen-sink realism; I think theater should do what it does best - create live magic. The Greeks invented theater as we know it as a religious ceremony, a transcendent experience. I'm all for low humor (no surprise there), but theaters are temples for me, doing for me what church is supposed to, but never does. And what better story to experience than the Greatest Story Ever Told - with jokes?

And this production is funny - very funny. Family friendly funny. Which doesn't matter to me personally, but I thought you'd like to know. I got my seat through the lottery (cushion on the floor for thirty bucks - highly recommended), so I had a perfect view of the alumni members of the 1972 Toronto production in the audience: Victor Garber (also Jesus in the film), Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Martin Short and Paul Schaeffer, the musical director. Like me, they had grins from ear-to-ear. Honestly, my cheeks hurt so much from smiling I was relieved when Jesus finally got crucified.

As I sat watching those familiar faces beaming at the young cast, I imagined a time 40 years from now when we reflect on how many people in this production went on to become stars. Every member of Godspell sweats talent. It's been a while since I've seen anyone literally stop a show, but it happened twice with Lindsay Mendez and Telly Leung's full-throated renditions of "Bless the Lord My Soul" and "All Good Gifts." And Hunter Parrish is so unbelievably beautiful - like his skin is made of a different substance than the rest of us - he really does look like, well, a god.

The show strives (and succeeds) to absorb the audience - the band is actually spread out among the seats, and the audience was invited to drink wine onstage during intermission. Here I am proving that I knew outrageously talented Telly Leung when:

During intermission, I also spoke with my fellow cushion sitters, one of whom was back for her sixth time with a friend she'd made when they were frequent fliers at Spring Awakening. I've always wanted to talk to one of these die-hard fans, who, as much as I appreciate from a box-office standpoint, freak me out a little. Particularly when my cushion-mate told me she'd seen Spring Awakening 175 times.

"Why?" I said, trying not to sound judgey.

"Because it's different every time."

And with just five words, she shut me up - no easy feat. I mean, here I am this theater snob, endeavoring not to sneer at a truly fanatic fan, and she schools me in the transformative power of theater. It's an experience I'll never forget.

Producer Ken Davenport has shrewdly marketed the show heavily toward people with a "Godspell memory." The show is woven into the fabric of so many people's lives - here's mine, for instance. Indeed, at the summer drama camp I went to we said grace at dinner by singing "Day by Day."

So it seems to me the show would play to busloads of Christian groups. I don't know if Ken's reached out that segment (I'm not on those mailing lists), but he should.

If you ignore the critics and go, the one thing you won't see when you go is me onstage, which was for Victor Garber and Friends only. You see, because I was on the floor, I was a prime patsy to be chosen for the audience participation segment of the show - in this case, playing Lazarus.

Getting to act onstage in a Broadway show on opening night wasn't just a dream come true, it resounded on multiple levels. When Floyd and I left New York in 1986, Broadway was dying, along with all the people who made it. So, like the prodigal son, we fled, taking our time in the wilderness, if you will. It wasn't until my mother died two years ago that I felt ready to finish what we'd started back then. Like someone waking from a slumber in a fairy tale, her death released me to live in a whole new way. Our feeling was "if not now, when?"

Godspell's opening night was the eve of her birthday. And I got to celebrate it by playing Lazarus, who comes back from the dead.

So, yes, I'm totally biased toward this show. But I think there are a lot of people who feel the same way.

1 comment:

DavidG said...

GODSPELL has a special place in my heart. I played Jesus for one summer many years ago in a touring production all over Southern Vermont. I loved playing that character, and I'm an atheist! I hope I get to see GODSPELL in NYC.