Writer: John-Michael Tebelak
Producer (concert): Russell Scott &Mark Petitt
Director: Kenneth Avery-Clark
MD: Russell Scott
Reviewer: Gemma Hirst
Originally opening Off-Broadway in 1971, Godspell is a musical about a group of believers who follow Jesus, learning about and sharing his teachings in a series of parables. The production is directed in such a way that we as the audience allow us to recognise these teachings, and in some way understand them.
Walking into the Sage Gateshead, it is as though the entire venue has been transformed into a church with all the trimmings, setting the stage for a rock concert-esque staging of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell. Metal bars, big jazzy lights and top acoustics all add to the atmosphere of the night.
Sadly, some of the content and narrative is lost due to these effects, splendid as they are, but as this production is Godspell in Concert, it is only of trivial concern for some. Often, the concert feels like a mashup between FOX TV show Glee and the Bible, and it is down to personal preference as to whether this is a good or bad decision.
The creatives have got one thing right however, and that is the appointment of a different local choir on each leg of the tour. Bringing a sense of belonging and pride to each of the regions, at the Sage we are treated to stellar performances by the North East’s very own Voices of Hope choir. The chamber choir, led by MD Simon Fidler, have been performing together since 2011 and already have a number of world premieres under their belts. Voices of Hope add a delightful volume to a show, filling the stage with colour and enthusiasm. An absolute credit to the North East.
There is a strong feeling of a party atmosphere at the forefront of this production, while Mitch Miller from BBC’s The Voice 2015 does not disappoint with his performance. Particularly his rendition of ‘All Good Gifts’, his vocal range is outstanding with harmonies and falsettos galore. Tom Senior (Jersey Boys) as Jesus carries his strong voice around the Sage, sending shivers down the spine of the audience with his solo. However, other members of the cast unfortunately, often feel as though they have been chosen simply for their Glee likeability.
There are questionable costume choices in this production, for example luminous wristbands worn by the cast to show their dedication and love for Jesus, are reminiscent of those found in a night club instead of representative of the holy, righteous, loving and modest man of miracles. Times are changing however, and it is appreciated that this production is moving forward inadapting this musical for the modern day. The 21st century is brought about full throttle when one lucky disciple, or audience member, is brought up on stage for a variety of tasks including taking a #JesusSelfie with the audience (for those of you on twitter, you can follow this hashtag as the tour continues around the country).
The modern influences and staging makes this piece accessible to the next generation, but it feels as though this has been taken to an extreme, and disappointingly we lose the seriousness and heart of the story to the party atmosphere.
Godspell has been away from our stages for quite some time, and this reviewer feels that it is a chapter which needs to be re-written before returning again.
Reviewed on: 1st May 2015, touring until 30th May 2015.
Photo Credit: Darren Bell