The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. In this case, he’s given me a production of Godspell from Ohio and taken away my sanity. It’s never a good sign when you hope a show is reaching its conclusion then, realising that it is only halfway through, die a little inside. The main problem appears to be bad direction. I spent a large part of play asking myself ‘Why is everyone sat down all the time?’ Then whenever they stood up, I realised that it seemed to be because everyone had an uncontrollable urge to put their hands in the air. This is not the only hand crime frequently committed because apparently, acting is gestures. Apparently Hell is a place where people wave their arms about and make odd noises. Maybe it’s worth a holiday – it sounds like Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Heavy-handed symbolism is used alongside these exuberant gestures. Oh dear! Judas Iscariot has dropped his Jesus bandana. What could this possibly mean? The Jesus bandanas, incidentally, were presented at the beginning of the play to each cast member by Jesus in a really long song. Each cast member had their own unique and increasingly tenuous interaction with Jesus – is elbow bumping something people actually do?
The script has mercifully been cut to a mere 90 long minutes, but the cuts feel a bit all over the place. The resulting schedule of song, parable, song, parable makes each parable feel like a celebrity infomercial. They are often delivered with the understanding of one too. Occasionally it feels like the cast aren’t quite certain what the words they uttering actually mean, although to their credit they persist to the end with unwavering enthusiasm for just about everything.
Singing quality is largely decent but does vary among the cast. It seems that every cast member has been given their own song to shine in which, whilst a nice inclusive idea, doesn’t ultimately aid the production. The main singing problem appears to be diction rather than volume, with cast members not emphasising the ends of words sang and thus allowing them to escape unheard into the voids of purgatory. Whilst I understand that the musical is clearly meant to revolve around a large ensemble, I wish the director had had the courage to allow people to leave the stage occasionally so it doesn’t always resemble Henman Hill on a Sunday at Wimbledon.
When Jesus announces that the second coming will happen when you least expect it, I stifle a laugh. Hopefully if it does come, it won’t be in the form of a High School Musical lightly doused in Christianity. The word that comes to mind is trite. Any moral message this was once intended to pass along is lost behind infuriatingly bad one-liners, worn-out pop-culture references and ‘hilarious’ fourth-wall breaking remarks. It’s not completely irredeemable – all can be saved from sin, after all. Choreography (when the actors actually get to dance and not wave their arms) is used quite well, probably helped by the cast’s undying enthusiasm. Ultimately however, there is little that can save Godspell from divine fury.