John-Michael Tebelak must have been quite a student. Godspell, the musical he created in the early 1970's, was his university thesis in Pennsylvania. Fellow students recognised its appeal, took it on tour before it soon opened off-Broadway. Several years later the film version was released attracting a world-wide audience.
Last night saw Godspell performed in the Methodist Church and from the opening number, a rousing Prepare Ye, it's immediately clear the music hasn't aged one jot. Day By Day remains the standout number – hardly surprisingly, it was a big singles success after the show hit Broadway – while the seductive Turn Back, O Man has the audience in raptures.
The word 'Godspell' is an Old English version of 'gospel' and the show presents a series of parables, largely drawn from St Matthew's Gospel. There are messages at many levels from 'Tomorrow will take care of itself. Today has problems of its own'; 'Let the one of you who is faultless cast the first stone,' and 'He who lives by the sword, will die by the sword'. Comedy is used to effect, notably as Jesus declares that sheep will enter heaven while goats must suffer eternal damnation. The goats, hardly surprisingly, sing We Beseech Thee with feeling as they beg for mercy!
There are superb performances from all the soloists with outstanding contributions from a vampish Val Warner and from Jean Gunstone on the two show-stopping numbers. Andrew Down as Jesus has some of the toughest numbers in the score and handles them, and a huge amount of dialogue, with aplomb while Barnaby Crompton's Judas is a highlight of the show, blessed as he is with the knack of extracting the maximum from every line.
The 'Gathering', the twenty two young cast members – and some are very young – saw polished performances from all, with Hannah Bradshaw and Tricia Boffey in fine form.
Audlem's show is probably higher-tech than Broadway could even have dreamt of in those far-off seventies. The lighting by Peter Lawson, sound courtesy of Andrew Gunstone, combined with computer and video imaging by John Gunstone and John Owen, would test the most professional of companies but was handled last night with consummate skill. The video screens were notably effective in the final scene representing the Cross and earlier when silent movies footage amused the audience and gave a short rest to the cast.
The thirty five-strong chorus was in excellent voice throughout the ninety minutes, particularly in By My Side and On The Willows while the band – musicians who play together regularly – hit just the right note and volume. Producer Nancy-May Goodwin, with drama and musical directors Rachael Crowther and Naomi Crompton, should feel very pleased with this first-night performance. The sell-out audiences over the rest of the week are in for a treat, one that enhances the already high reputation of Audlem Methodist Church's annual productions.
Review by Bob Cartwright
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