Godspell: Biblical Passages Spell Out In Style
By Trixie Dauz
What made the show work in spite of its lackluster content was its visual splendor as well as the ensemble’s explosive energy.
The Broadway rock opera is a 1970 master’s thesis project of John-Michael Tebelak, who wrote the book. It was originally directed by Lawrence Carra for the Carnegie Mellon University. Edgar Lansbury (Angela Lansbury’s brother) as well as several others supported the idea of opening it off-Broadway. They commissioned another alumnus of Carnegie Mellon’s theater department, Stephen Schwartz (who was also the creative genius behind Wicked the Musical), to write the lyrics and compose the music. Thus, this resulted in the show opening off-Broadway in May 17, 1971.
Since then, there wasn’t any much change saved for some of the additional lyrics which either came from the Episcopal Hymnal or from the1973 version which replaced the song “Day by Day” (Reprise) with the 1972 song written for the film, Beautiful City. Its Broadway debutwas in 1976 and it won Best Score from an original Cast Show Album in the 14th Grammy Awards.
“It’s a wondering about the beauty of the spirit, that the body is not the space of the spirit, but that the spirit is the space of the body,” said the director Anton Juan in an online interview. True enough, cast members were not just asked to play their respective roles, they were asked by the director to actually play themselves at the same time.
John Ilao Batalla, the lighting designer, made every scene look like a painting with his strong technicolor hues, mainly in his trademark indigo, as well as bold red and yellow hues. In the scene where Jesus (Jef Flores) was just discussing the parables from the Gospel of Matthew with the members of the company and neither engaging in a reenactment nor a song number, the tinge of the color purple was almost always present. Purple is a color of meditation, which lent a shade of magic and mystery to the aura of each scene. The production design evoked a feel of classy vagrancy. It helped a lot that one of the show’s sponsors was Mac Cosmetics, because the make-up certainly made them look like they were prepping for an intergalactic Fashion Week.
Almost every one of the members had a solo number. The testament to their vocal prowess is obviously the fact that the director didn’t leave out the first song, which is Prologue: The Tower of Babble. One of the reasons some of the material’s previous directors didn’t choose to include this is because of its difficulty level. In this scene, members of the company took the stage and each one identified himself or herself as one of the great historical philosophers. They took turns debating and trying to overpower each other until their words fizzle out and just turn into a babble.
The show could have been better if the energy was tempered and not high all the time. There was a certain lack of emotional depth when the characters try to connect with each other. Only Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo was able to make me, as an audience, feel and not just get awed by the visual spectacle. However, these elements do not take the fact that the show is very enjoyable and Juan’s artistic judgment in making the cast break the fourth wall, as early as the audience members were being ushered in the theater, certainly paid off.
Other cast members are Oj Mariano, Caisa Borromeo, Red Concepcion, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, Topper Fabregas, Abi Sulit, Poppert Bernadas, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo, Maronne Cruz, and Gab Pangilinan. The show runs until June 26 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City.