The reviews for Godspell are in and they are not what Producers were hoping to see. Though some of the cast, like Telly Leung and Lindsay Mendez, get some nice shout outs, reviewers all agree – the show is simply trying too hard and better belongs Off-Off-Off-Off-Off-Off Broadway, at your local high school or community theatre, than at the Circle in the Square. With glitter and choreography that includes the Macarena and trampolines, the show skews young and is generally is not these reviewer’s cup of tea. That said, we’ve seen many Broadway shows continue on to great success, regardless of reviews because the youth element latched on so strongly (Wicked, anyone?). Perhaps this show will surprise every one of them and the ADHD energy that was too much for these reviewers is the perfect recipe for success among the coveted younger audiences.
The New York Times:
Go easy on the caffeine if you’re heading to the Broadway revival of “Godspell” that opened on Monday night at the Circle in the Square. The cast of this relentlessly perky production of the 1971 musical, which transformed parables from the Gospels into a series of singable teaching moments, virtually never stops bopping, bouncing, bounding, even trampolining across the stage and up the aisles of the theater. It’s like being trapped in a summer camp rec room with a bunch of kids who have been a little too reckless with the Red Bull.
The Hollywood Reporter/Reuters:
Prepare ye the way for disappointment. Goldstein approaches it all like a Children’s Television Workshop special. Maybe it’s appropriate for a show so widely performed in schools, but this feels indeed like a high school production staged by the wacky new drama teacher. (Think Mr. G. on HBO’s under-appreciated Summer Heights High.) Christopher Gattelli’s choreography also throws a million ideas at the stage in the hope that something sticks. The strength of some of the second-act songs such as “On the Willows” ensures that a depth of feeling does eventually coalesce. And the crucifixion is arrestingly staged, albeit with cheesy simulated slo-mo from the disciples during the finale’s wailing guitar breaks. But my chief takeaway from this was the tarnishing of a treasured theater memory. Now, let’s see how Jesus Christ Superstar holds up in the spring.
“Godspell,” which has long been a standard show put on in colleges and high schools, captures the best of the old and embraces the new: At intermission, some cast members stay on stage for the traditional boogie with the audience – yes, free wine is handed out – and yet this new version has the parable about Tribute to Caesar illustrated by Jesus putting a coin in a tip jar. Costumes by Miranda Hoffman remain true to that dynamic, with the use of multicolored pants and suspenders as a nod to the hippy past, and prom dresses, sneakers, a bowling shirt and leopard prints a sign of the new. It all ends badly, of course – for Jesus, not the show. The second act is a bummer, though Jesus’ death is sensitively handled. But as his followers carry his body away – their faces glisten with sweat and they are visibly moved – it’s clear that “Godspell” has anointed a new group of Broadway stars and we are the richer for it.
The nine performers are talented young people who get less cloying in the second act, when they stop trying so hard. They begin in business clothes, talking into cellphones, but soon change into ragtag thrift shop/fairy-tale style. They dance the Macarena, shoot confetti at us from pop guns and, in one of the better numbers, jump on trampolines revealed under trap doors.
Scrupulous journalism requires me to report that Friday’s audience leaped to its collective feet, roared with approval and many even went onstage for thimbles of wine at intermission. At the risk of appearing to kick a puppy, I admit I was not among them.
Goldstein and choreographer Christopher Gattelli milk the in-the-round staging for all it’s worth. The band members are scattered among the audience, the actors often run up and down the aisles and volunteers are invited onstage for games of charades and Pictionary. Clean-cut and colorful, this production skews young. It’s great for teens, but adults may find its hyperactivity a bit numbing.
Strongest aspect of the affair is the casting: This “Godspell” is especially well sung. Standing out are Lindsay Mendez (on “Bless the Lord” and elsewhere) and Telly Leung (on “All Good Gifts”). The one big letdown comes from Hunter Parrish, the Jesus of the occasion. Parrish has an innocent smile, big blonde hair, and plenty of teeth; he doesn’t look like a Ken doll, exactly, but he sings like one. Wallace Smith, as John/Judas, is marginally stronger but not up to the level of the ensemble. One of the surprising bright spots is the entr’acte reprise of “Learn Your Lessons Well,” sung by Leung (at piano) with Mendez and Smith. Yes, there is an audience for this “Godspell,” and perhaps they can be reached. But the strengths of the original have been so weighted down by mirthless improvements that it makes for a very long two hours.
0 stars. Updating the show with mobile phones and references to Donald Trump makes it no less creepy. Jesus (Hunter Parrish) can’t sing. The band sounds muddy. David Korins’s set and Miranda Hoffman’s costumes replace primary colors with dull tones. There’s one standout among the dreary supporting players: a star-quality mimicker named Telly Leung.
The music’s been given a once-over, as well, with sometimes radically tricked-out new undercarriages: Gone is the granola folk of “God Save the People,” replaced by an almost- reggae lilt; “We Beseech Thee”‘s gospel revival has been canned in favor of neo-country (and is now performed on, gulp, trampolines). And yet, for all that’s changed, it’s still much the same spell. “Bless the Lord” is still the first number to bring down the house (especially as performed by the redoubtable Lindsay Mendez), and incandescent individual performances (Telly Leung’s magnificent “All Good Gifts,” for example) elevate songs that might, in less expert hands, show their age.
The show’s songs, including “Day By Day” (warmly sung by Anna Maria Perez de Tagle), “Learn Your Lessons Well,” “By My Side” and “All for the Best,” are well-served by Michael Holland’s dynamic orchestrations…It’s clever, but the message intended by the parable gets lost. That’s the evening’s biggest problem: Instead of the show’s style enhancing the delivery of its substance, it often obscures it.
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Reorchestrated and sound-designed for young, modern ears, this Godspell sounds like a born-again Glee, and several performers have moments to shine (including Uzo Aduba, Telly Leung and the wonderful Lindsay Mendez). Capering through Christopher Gattelli’s joyous choreography, on David Korins’s continually surprising set, the actors are nothing if not energetic. But for all the copious tributes paid to him, Jesus is a thankless role, and Hunter Parrish is this production’s sacrifice to it; with a voice and presence as light as his ultra-blond locks, Parrish preaches softly and wears a creepily forced smile. This is Jesus as Stepford twink, and it’s regrettably in keeping with a show that, in its combination of bathos and kitsch, is a model of bad faith.
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Instead of allowing the concept, of a childlike Christ leading a gaggle of puppyish disciples through the parables, to stand on its own, Goldstein has added a plethora of gimmicks, including audience-participation charades and Pictionary, as well as topical references to everything from Donald Trump to Facebook to Occupy Wall Street. When the cast hauls out the glitter cannons at the end of the first act, you know they’re trying too hard. “Godspell” is a popular choice for high school and community theaters because it has a simple, laid-back charm and opportunities for the cast of 10 to stand out, with each receiving at least one lead vocal part in the bouncy, infectious score, here rocked up and amped by orchestrator Michael Holland and sound designer Andrew Keister. Goldstein would have done better to reduce the volume and let the young ensemble rather than the jazzy staging take the spotlight.
The Village Voice:
But the show’s switches from goofy to glum are as awkward as ever, and while the Jesus (the surfer-dude-looking Hunter Parrish from Weeds) has a silkily beautiful voice, he can’t make the dramatic parts as profound as they want to be.
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But while some of the in-jokes are funny, and the audience seemed to enjoy them, most of the references felt like forced attempts to connect with a contemporary audience whose memory banks are like their ever-changing Facebook walls. You eventually start to wonder: If the story of Jesus and his apostles cannot be treated as timeless, what on earth can?