Godspell Broadway Review - USA Today
New 'Godspell' is cause to rejoiceBy Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY
NEW YORK – Broadway has a new pop idol, and he's driving the kids wild.
The young man in question is boyishly handsome, with a lanky frame and a spiky shock of blond hair, but has an endearing goofy streak. And unlike many of his peers, he's not patently a showbiz creature; nothing about him seems manufactured or contrived.
Except, perhaps, his name: Jesus Christ.
To clarify a bit, that's the character played by Hunter Parrish in the irresistibly exuberant new production of Godspell (***½ out of four) that opened Monday at Circle in the Square. For the uninitiated, that's the 40-year-old musical that marked the arrival of composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin).
Based on the Gospel of Matthew, the show stresses Jesus' humility and compassion, reinforcing that he's a hero for secular humanists as well as the pious. Whether you go for it depends not on your religious affiliation, but on your tolerance for the format; it can suggest a giddily earnest children's program, with Jesus cast as the firm but likable teacher and his disciples as eager but often unruly students.
Happily, this revival, the first ever on Broadway, strikes just the right tone. The young, multicultural cast is extravagantly talented, but director Daniel Goldstein sustains a relaxed, let's-put-on-show vibe. As in the original staging, the only clearly defined roles are those of Jesus and Judas; other performers essentially play kids fumbling through their lessons, and hamming it up whenever they get the chance.
The malleable spoken portion of Godspell— a collection of parables embellished with freewheeling shtick — has been updated to include references to Steve Jobs, Donald Trump and Facebook.
There are moments of excessive cuteness, but what comes through most is the touching innocence of these characters.
This makes the inevitable ending even more affecting. Wallace Smith's Judas has a robust voice and an easy masculinity that makes him convincing as friend and foil to Parrish's sweetly charismatic Messiah; and Goldstein guides the company to the final scenes of betrayal and crucifixion with a compelling tenderness.
Michael Holland's orchestrations and vocal arrangements lend muscle and nuance, garnishing Schwartz's scrumptious soft-rock score with deft contemporary flourishes.
Regardless of your faith, or lack of it, you'll leave this Godspell a believer in the transporting power of musical theater.
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