“Learnin’ every line and every last commandment
May not help you but it couldn’t hurt”
Of course Crazy Eyes has a beautifully soulful voice, of course she does. In all honesty, I wasn’t much enjoying my listen of the New Broadway Cast Recording of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell until I got to the luxuriously chilled version of ‘By My Side’ when I suddenly took notice and realised that I recognised the name of the singer Uzo Aduba. She is now much more famous due to her award-winning role in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black but back in 2011, she was part of the cast of this production at Circle in the Square Theatre.
The cast recording is a very full one, featuring the 16 tracks of the show plus a (frankly unnecessary) bonus rendition of ‘Beautiful City’ by Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik and an acoustic rendition of ‘Learn Your Lessons Well’. Michael Holland’s new arrangements certainly make their stamp on the songs, stripping them back to a near-hippyish vibe but wedded as I am to my early 90s version of the soundtrack, I do find it hard to really appreciate them as they’re just so different.
‘Turn Back, O Man’ becomes a slinky pseudo-Bond theme, ‘All for the Best’ is more laidback than energetic thereby tempering its vaudevillian verve, not necessarily bad but strange to listen to, especially out of the context of the production. What I really don’t like is the tendency to oversinging that mars some of the tracks. Lindsay Mendez takes it to church in ‘Bless the Lord’ but carries on way past the graveyard into unchartered territory for little appreciable gain aside from showiness, similarly Telly Leung’s extravagance on ‘All Good Gifts’.
It’s all much more effective when some restraint is exercised, as in Aduba’s emotive ‘By My Side’ or Hunter Parrish’s gorgeous ‘Beautiful City’, when you really feel that the actors are serving the material as the beautiful musical theatre it is. A cast recording to dip in and out of then, rather than take in all in one.