By Barry Bassis
The 1971 rock musical “Godspell” is based on “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” but takes a jokey approach to the material. Now back on Broadway (at the Circle in the Square Theater) in a production directed by Daniel Goldstein, the book by John-Michael Tebelak has been updated with references to a host of contemporary figures, from Lindsay Lohan to Muammar Gaddafi. The show’s biggest selling point has always been Stephen Schwartz’s melodic songs and they are extremely well served by an energetic cast. The savior and his apostles are a sort of rainbow coalition, led by Hunter Parrish, who seems closer to Justin Bieber than Jesus Christ. He and his followers splash around in holy water, leap on trampolines and play charades with members of the audience. The musicians are placed around the theater and the show is wholesome family fun, assuming your kids are old enough to deal with a crucifixion. Some of the highlights are Uzo Aduba’s “By My Side” (written by Peggy Gordon and Jay Hamburger ), Julia Mattison’s “Turn Back, O Man” (especially impressive since she is an understudy), “Day by Day” by Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, and Telly Leung’s “All Good Gifts.” “Godspell” may often be silly but it is tuneful and good-natured.
To celebrate the anniversary of “Godspell,” Masterworks Broadway has released a 2-CD set. One disc contains the original cast recording and the second is the original film soundtrack. The set has liner notes written by Stephen Schwartz about the genesis of the show and the differences between the recordings. The original cast recording has the hit version of “Day By Day” while the film has the added song, “Beautiful City” and also features, in the role of Jesus, the young Victor Garber. I was pleased to learn that there will be a recording of the Circle in the Square production. Also from Masterworks Broadway are “Follies In Concert” (with a fabulous cast, including the definitive “Losing My Mind” from Barbara Cook), “Babes in Arms” starring the ineffable Mary Martin and Jack Cassidy and the 1953 studio recordings of songs from the pioneering all-black musicals “Shuffle Along” (1921) and “Blackbirds of 1928” (1928) with composer Eubie Blake playing piano and songs performed by Thelma Carpenter, Avon Long and Cab Calloway.
“Venus in Fur” is David Ives’ clever riff on the novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (from whose name “masochism” is derived). An actress with an attitude shows up for an unscheduled audition and soon plays head games with the author-director of a theatrical adaptation of the novel. The play-within-a-play device works in this instance and the actress, played by Nina Arianda, soon has her would-be employer eating out of her hands. As she demonstrated in the original off-Broadway production, she has the same effect on audiences. The good news about the Broadway version, directed by Walter Bobbie, is that Arianda has an ideal love-hate partner in Hugh Dancy.
Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” is a precursor of the screwball romantic comedies of the thirties. Written in 1930 as a vehicle for himself and Gertrude Lawrence, it is often revived but with varying success. The current Broadway revival, directed by Richard Eyre, stars Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross and they skillfully maintain the love-hate balance throughout. Their stick-in-the-mud spouses are well played by Anna Madeley and Simon Paisley Day. Coward provides plenty of laughs and any show where Cattrall first appears in nothing but a towel is off to a promising start. “Private Lives” is running at the Music Box until February 5th.