Godspell at Hackney Empire
Still considered one of the most revived musicals of the last 40 years, the original production of Godspell had a long run both on and off Broadway in the 70s, with more than 2,600 performances. The show had a Broadway revival on its 40th anniversary in 2011, with a fresh vision and new music from Stephen Schwatz.
This religious musical, now touring the UK supported by different choirs for each respective city, sets to bring to life a range of Biblical stories, centring mainly on the teachings of Jesus Christ according on the Gospels of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. With a relatively large ensemble, the Vaudeville show pulls out a host of theatrical devices including some mildly amusing sketches, a slightly confusing take on story theatre and, thankfully, highly uplifting songs courtesy of The American Musical Theatre Academy choir (for the London leg of the show) to depict Jesus’ teaching on love and community.
There is a clear move to make this production cool and contemporary with comical references to celebrities and popular culture that will get a few laughs but, at times, especially for those who grew up as church-going Christians, it will feel like being back in Sunday school. The attempts at interactivity by involving audience members push it towards the pantomime corner.
The fact that the spine of the cast seem to be a selection of also-rans from television talent shows cannot be ignored. But this is mainly a light script without any deeply challenging dialogues, and probably the best way to introduce to musical theatre the likes of Leanne Jarvis and Mitch Miller (recent contestants of BBC’s The Voice) and Andy Abraham from the X Factor circa 2006. The stand-out performances, however, come from the accomplished Tom Senior (playing Jesus) and a very impressive Dominique Planter, portraying the likes of Gordon Ramsey and Kanye West in the first act vignettes before belting out her enchanting solo, By My Side, in the second act.
Also worth mentioning is the bizarre musical interlude – described as a sing-song, led by Miller and Abraham – that the audience is treated to during the interval. The bout of vocal gymnastics by the TV talent show singers, despite the beautiful sound, comes across as awkwardly showy. Like Darius Dannesh’s impromptu Britney Spears performance in Pop Stars all those years ago, this little showpiece is uncalled for, their colleagues cheerleading the audience as they strained every sinew of their vocal chords cringeworthy.
This revival of Godspell is not as enlightening or inspiring as it was in the 70s, but it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable piece of uplifting family entertainment.
Photo: Darren Bell
Godspell was at Hackney Empire until 5th April 2015, for further information about the tour visit here.