Broadway's 'Godspell' revival: Hunter Parrish makes for a luminescent Jesus

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Sometimes the memory, or even the soundtrack, is so much better than the reality. 

"Godspell," staging its first Broadway revival since its long run in the 70s, opens Monday (Nov. 7).

As people file out of the Circle in the Square theater and onto Broadway, we have to ask: "Why?"

The show combines the parables of Jesus Christ with topical gags. The opening number has them texting. They joke about Trump, Gaddafi, Lindsay Lohan and bank bailouts. Steve Jobs is with the angels.
 
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The cast, mostly unknowns except for Hunter Parrish ("Weeds" "Spring Awakening") who plays Jesus, has tremendous energy. Most of them are talented, but that's expected by the time people make it to Broadway. 

Many of them are great singers, especially Telly Leung ("Rent" "Glee"). And Uzo Aduba has fabulous stage presence, working flat lines into jokes.

Parrish is luminescent, sweet and radiates goodness, a role requirement, which  he does well.

Their costumes are, at best, distracting. It feels as if the costume designer hated the cast and had an extremely tight budget. No actual dancing is committed -- though there is trampoline jumping and splashing.

Though the lessons of the musical are, naturally, excellent, and present a moral code. A couple of hours of this could turn a believer into an atheist. 

There are some fun ideas. The cast enters as adherents to different philosophers. A woman carries a bag emblazoned with Socrates. A man totes a briefcase that says Galileo. Someone has a Hegel backpack. And a pizza carton says L. Ron Hubbard.

But from the opening, the show is purposefully discordant. There's rapping and drumming and very upbeat performers who do their best to make the audience happy. And many of them seem happy, though this by no means left people cheering the way terrific musicals can. And this is with the players working mighty hard to get the audience to be part of the experience. 

They work relentlessly to involve the audience. At one point a woman is pulled on stage for a round of Pictionary. Another woman is brought up to act out charades. At intermission, everyone is invited on stage to mingle with the cast.

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This was never a brilliant musical, and relied on the ebullience of its cast. But if all we seek is enthusiasm why not just go to a high school football game and watch cheerleaders? And that's the main problem. This feels like a high school musical, but is nowhere as polished as the Disney production. 

That's hardly a knock on amateur productions, especially if you're heading to high school to watch your kid and her friends do their version of this. It becomes a drag when people are expected to pay top dollar for the experience.
Photo/Video credit: Jeremy Daniel
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