Review: Godspell 50th anniversary concert

Ruthie Henshall, Darren Day, Sam Tutty and more star in an online 50th Anniversary concert of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell 

“Some men are born to live at ease, doing what they please”

We’ve all had to adjust our plans one way or another but not even a global pandemic is going to get in the way of Godspell celebrating its 50th anniversary with this online tribute concert. Conceived and directed by Michael Strassen, it reunites stars like Ruthie Henshall, Darren Day and John Barr with a show for which they made a studio cast recording in 1993, and also features a host of additional musical theatre talents.

The musical, score by Stephen Schwartz and book by John-Michael Tebelak, draws on the Gospel of Matthew as it moves towards the Passion of the Christ. But this adaptation points a little more towards inspirational optimism than outright spirituality, whilst introducing a creatively interesting way of presenting the songs which sets it apart from many of the other online offerings of the last few months. 

Strassen employs any number of visual effects along with some fascinating location choices to really keep the audience on their toes from vignette to vignette. Natalie Green and Ronald Brian deliver ‘Day by Day’ as a Facetime call whereas Ria Jones’ ‘Learn Your Lessons Well’ arrives as an Instastory complete with comments. By contrast, Alison Jiear absolutely feels her oats performing ‘Bless the Lord’ vibrantly in a church and Ruthie Henshall, well, the above photo should be temptation enough!

For all this dizzying inventiveness, the most powerful musical moments – musical direction from George Carter – comes from the simpler treatments. The lushness of the harmonies from Lucy Williamson and Shekinah McFarlane’s ‘By My Side’, the similarly gorgeous musicality from Sally Ann Triplett, John Barr and Jenna Russell in ‘On The Willows’. And there’s a neat earnestness from Darren Day’s Jesus though for me, I’d’ve been tempted to switch him for Matthew Croke, who is a mightily charismatic Judas.

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