In 1970, student John Micheal-Tebelak was hassled by cops after having the audacity to attend Easter service in long hair and overalls. Godspell is the result, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz added shortly after. (Schwartz went on to score Pippin and Wicked.)
Without too much disruption to the Christian gospel message, the parable-driven show can be set in any time, place, or context—except maybe J.P. Morgan offices. The director of this particular Theatre In the Round production, Dann Peterson, sets it in a theater, adding jokes in that direction. If you're into it, the show runs until July 27.
But if you were a kid when the film version came out, like the dad in our party (Geoff Herbach), you will always see Godspell as the playground of urban hippie clowns.
The children in our party had no idea what Godspell is supposed to be. They had never heard of it.
On the drive there:
Dad: If they’re not dressed as hippies, I’m leaving.
Mom: OMG, #grandpaherbach!
Mira: It’s trending!
Upon entering the theater:
Natasha: It smells like theater.
Mira: Yeah. Theater. It has a smell. Like the band room.
There is a tall stepladder in the middle of the stage, with a sign that says, “Auditions for Philosophers.”
Natasha: Wow. This really is theater in the round. They’re really going to be right there. All around.
Mira: I’d like to be a philosopher. Is that someone who sits around and thinks about life? I can do that. Are they going to fall off that ladder?
Natasha: That would be hilarious!
Mira: Maybe they will! Maybe this is—what’s that called?—slap-happy comedy? I love that!
Dad: There is a person in the audience wearing tie-dye. I will stay.
The show begins with the players all dressed in black or gray and pretending to audition for a show-within-the-show called Philosophers.
Dad: (whispering) Oh my God, they’re not hippies!
Shortly after, the cast changes into colorful overalls and peasant skirts, which they remain in for the rest of the show.
Dad: (whispering) I accept this.
The young cast is mostly impressive in their singing (though we wish they would have all been mic’d, not just some), and very impressive in their youth, charisma, sense of community with each other, and vaudevillian clowning. The choreography is particularly excellent, with the "in-the-round" space used well. It’s not often anyone encounters a show as tonally earnest as Godspell. It was tearfully refreshing for the Gen-X grownups, if a little puzzling for the jaded, ironic teens.
Mira: That part where Jesus tells that girl to forgive her brother and she does, like, right away? That would never happen!
Natasha: Which one is Jesus?
Mira: It’s the guy in the stripe-y shirt.
Natasha: I totally thought it was the guy in the purple coat.
Dad: That was John the Baptist.
After the show, on the ride home:
Mira: Was this supposed to be during Jesus’s time? Because I don’t think they would have had tattoos.
Natasha: Maybe it is supposed to be, like, hippie times? That would make more sense.
Mira: I though it was really good.
Natasha: I liked how the cast interacted with the audience.
Mira: I liked the line about Disney child stars. That was funny. But that part where Jesus gets his armpit washed and then his forehead washed with the same sponge? That should have been switched so the forehead was first, then the armpit. I would not want armpit juice on my forehead!
Dad: (teary) They should call that show The Sounds of My Childhood.
Natasha: Ummm, that sounds really horrifying.