“We all need help to feel fine, let’s have some wine!”
Godspell is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and this version by All Star Productions at Ye Olde Rose And Crown Theatre in Walthamstow will be swiftly followed by one at the Union Theatre in Southwark, keen to pay tribute to this rock opera with music by Stephen Schwartz, who later went on to write a little show called Wicked. It is based on the Gospel according to St Matthew, following the last days of Jesus’ life and featuring dramatised versions of well known parables in a vaguely hippy-inspired style with his disciples recast as a group of flower children around him.
This version has been updated to feature quite a few contemporary references but the hippy aesthetic is one that has endured and the timelessness of the stories being told: love thy neighbour, respect those around you, don’t cross over to the other side, means that it is a show which pushes love and tolerance rather than any particular religion which is why I think it remains so popular. That, and the score which contains some great songs, ‘Day By Day’, ‘Prepare Ye…’ and my favourite, ‘By My Side’. It needs a strong performer in the central role of Jesus, and this production was Brian Elrick fulfilling the role, full of righteous anger at those who do not follow his words, a touching compassion for those that do and a powerful voice which carried well through the small space above this pub.
Too often though, the solo vocal performances from the ensemble were just not strong enough to provide the necessity clarity to convey the lyrical deftness of say, ‘All For The Best’ or the cheeky adlibs of ‘Turn Back O’Man’, or indeed to match the strident synthesised musical accompaniment led by Aaron Clingham from the keyboard. Only in the quieter piano songs like ‘By My Side’ did the performers, Geraldine Allen and Emma Manley, manage to deliver a fully comprehensible rendition or in the group numbers where the ensemble combined to mostly great effect.
And it is the ensemble work that sticks most in the mind, whether playing children at story-telling time to hear about the seeds that fell on stony ground, telling the story of a judge through the medium of X-Factor or simply reacting to Jesus leaving them, the commitment and enthusiasm throughout is cheerily relentless and cannot help but begin to win one over. Combined with a score which is filled with some great tunes (and a couple of clunkers it must be said), this is never a dull evening but it would have been nice to have the better sound balance from everyone that is very much needed.