Stephen Schwartz’s musical about Jesus might not be quite as famous as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s counterpart, but it’s just as notorious. Taking a group of people, inserting Jesus into their lives and watching as he teaches, through song and speech, the words of the Bible, the show itself can make for uncomfortable viewing, especially with it often being accused of being too ‘happy-clappy’.This is not so for Stage by Stage’s production. Featuring a selection of students from the stage school, it is what you’d expect in that context - a very good school play, but nothing groundbreaking.
Where these actors really shine is in their dance, performing complex routines surprisingly well. Vocally, few performers actually wow, but the actress playing Jesus had an incredible belt that would probably make Idina Menzel herself jealous. Also referred to as Laura, she did exceptionally well at leading the show through its journey from initial hope to crucifixion - her shining moment being that incredibly moving final scene on the cross.
There is a lack of consistency in quality throughout the piece, with different cast members showing off very different skills - some more suited to dance, some to singing. The decision to split the roles of John and Judas (normally doubled) meant more members of the cast got to show off their talents, though left the latter somewhat ignored until quite late on in the show. Similarly, a lack of awareness of the backgrounds of characters and their individual stories meant that a lot of songs and monologues had to be taken at face value, making the show more like a song cycle than anything else; it struggles to form a coherent plot-line in what is already a difficult musical to follow for the uninitiated. The mish-mash of fashions, though visually stimulating, left many loose threads that were never explained away, perhaps the fault of over-complicated direction rather than lack of thought.
Stage by Stage’s Godspell is by no means a bad show, it is just a stepping stone for bright young things as they work their way up - both in age and in skill - and is probably best suited to enthusiasts rather than someone seeking a way to kill an hour in the morning.