Like the show itself, I’m going to wear my heart on my sleeve from the very beginning. I’m so glad I liked this production, because to dislike Godspell would be a very sad thing.
Conceived and directed by Michael Strassen, if ever there was an illustration of how to make lemonade when life hands you lemons, this 50th anniversary production is it. The pandemic which makes this version necessary is incorporated into the piece and sits so comfortably, it could have always been there.
Whereas on stage Godspell is very much an ensemble piece, of necessity in this presentation there is more focus on the songs and the performers. And what performers. The cream of west end stars are lined up for us. I doubt a live version would pull so many together and I doubt a live version would allow us to have Ruthie Henshall tempt us to “Turn back o man” with just a bubble of Radox to cover her modesty!
The narrative, what there is of it, is based on the Gospel of St. Matthew and is told in a series of sung parables culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus. The spoken word of the original is omitted in this concert version, and with it some opportunity for comic moments. Even in this sung through version, there could have been some playfulness in songs like “We Beseech Thee” sung well by Jerome Bell. Ria Jones does manage humour very nicely in her rendition of “Learn your lessons well”. This is the only criticism you will hear from me though.
After 50 years, I guess there is a danger the songs will become dated, but with only modest re- arrangement of some notes, this is not the case here. From the plaintive “All good gifts” beautifully presented by Sam Tutty to Alison Jiear tearing lumps out of “Bless the Lord”, the music is as fresh, vibrant and captivating as the day it was written. One standout musical moment is “By my side” performed by Lucy Williamson and Shekinah McFarlane, in the solitude of my front room, it induced tears and would have done so in a theatre too. The songs are well supported by a talented young chorus from Italia Conti Academy and a very together band is under the direction of George Carter. The logistics of pulling all that lot together is an art form born of this current crisis and one I’m sure that will be used when it’s all over.
Presented in aid of Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, Acting for Others and The National Aids Fund. Treat yourself to an hour of loveliness. If you don’t fall in love with this Godspell, it will be a very sad thing.
Available online until the 31st August https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/godspell
Reviewer: Philip Edwards
Reviewed: 27th August 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★