Godspell is best when it wears its heart on its sleeve. That's not necessarily a comment on this most recent revival of Steven Shwartz's classic theatricalized telling of the Gospel According to Matthew, it's what's written into the soul of the script. With all the permission you are given to explore, create and improvise while doing a production of Godspell, this material shines brightest when it's left alone and allowed to breathe. Strong singers, a company of connected actors moving as one and those gorgeous, Steven Shwartz songs are what can make moments memorable for an audience of Godspell. When those moments happen (and they do happen in this production, most notably at the top of Act II and during my favorite song, "Day by Day"), you understand why this once progressive and experimental musical has become a classic. Often funny, intentionally self-aware and full of enough shtick to entertain even the sulkiest tween, Godspell sells itself best when it stops trying to....well...sell itself.
What's great here for kids is that Godspell is a series of shorts. If you don't like the rap number, hang on for the dance party. The atmosphere changes from parable to parable and from song to song. Every few minutes the tone shifts and there is something brand new happening. Godspell is like a collage of moments....characters and songs rise and up and change and thanks to inventive, theatre-in-the-round staging, there's always something new to look at and a new angle to examine. Every performer is featured (and they all rise to the occasion with knock out voices and sharp humor), and there is enough kid-friendly familiarity for most any child over the age of six.That said, the infectiousness of the piece lies in the humor, and this production has adapted itself to be accessible and funny to a young, modern audience. I was concerned that my daughter might not understand the show: We're Jewish, my children attend Jewish day school and until the day of the show my daughter had never even heard the word "parable". I'm not at all familiar with the biblical passages quoted on stage during Godspell....except for the fact that they're from Godspell. Before the show, I went over the basics with my daughter to the best of my ability so that she could have a shot at understanding it: That Christianity is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, his life is recorded in the New Testament of the Bible, and the parables are stories that teach lessons. I hoped this would be enough to get her through because that's pretty much all I've got. Thanks to a host of modern references and some familiar pop-culture characters, my eight year old was pulled in and was able to experience the joyfulness that Godspell means to induce.
Of course, like any musical about Jesus Christ, we all know what happens in the end. It's a touch intense and I was glad that I had warned my daughter about it in advance, but director Danny Godstein (who is a brand new father) was sensitive in how he chose to stage the crucifixion. It has enough intensity for an adult viewer but isn't too overwhelming for kids.
For a sampling of blog posts on Broadway's Godspell, visit MamaDrama. Be sure to use MamaDrama's discount code when ordering tickets: GSMDR79
I will put Godspell on my list of Broadway shows you can bring your child to, but I would recommend it most strongly for kids between the ages of eight and eighteen. The more into pop culture your child is, the more familiarity they will find in this updated version of the show.
GET TO THE POINT, MOM!
- An updated presentation of this once cutting-edge classic.
- Good for kids ages six and up but best for kids old enough to understand pop culture references.
- For more information, including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit the show's website at www.Godspell.com
- No spoilers here: we all know how it ends.