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Why the bad rap? 
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Tony Winner
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Post Why the bad rap?
So some people have disdain for Godspell. Just wondering what the most popular criticisms are of the show, and why people hold it in in low regard.


From AllExperts.com: "Godspell is a children's show."


Thu Aug 20, 2009 8:42 am
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Probably because of the clowns- or of the "clown" mentality.

Godspell's script is amorphous by nature. The notes in it literally tell the actors to take liberties, make jokes, update the script, but not all productions do. Therefore, the "template" for the show in the public eye was the original production and film.

That concept, of course, used the childlike nature, hope and naivite of the hippie movement, the experimental theater of the time, and the burgeoning Eastern religions to create its concept of childlike people exporing and playing with The Gospel to find its relevance in a spiritually enlightened, if not affiliated, community.

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Thu Aug 20, 2009 10:22 am
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Tony Winner
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Thank for your thoughtful and accurate response.

I should have qualified my post better, though. I'm more curious as to why certain theatre people have disdain for the show. I was hoping that the MdNers who dislike the show would offer a critique.


Thu Aug 27, 2009 8:10 am
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I think the "bad rap" would be because of the religious tones...I'm non-religious and love Godspell, but I thought I would hate it.


Thu Aug 27, 2009 12:12 pm
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Jesus' followers are sorta hippie-ish. Some really consertive Christians take that offensivally (I'm Catholic and I have no problem with that, but I guess some other people do)

Last year I suggested Godspell for our school musical becuase we wanted to do a small cast musical, but my drama teacher said no because of the religious aspects in it and that some parents would take that offensivally.

So people at either ends of the religious spectrum have issues with it. Well, at least they can agree on one thing...


Wed Dec 23, 2009 4:40 pm
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Post Re: Why the bad rap?
Religion is one of the reasons why some people don't particularly like it, this because they find it offensive to their own beliefs Christianity or they think of it as people shoving religion down their throats. This is a shame because people get caught up in the religious aspects of the show and forget what it's really about, the formation of a close nit community comprised of individuals. It's not a literal retelling of the life of Christ and it never tries to be, despite the fact it takes a good deal of its book and lyrics from the gospels and hymns (and probably has a better understanding of what Christianity should be like, but moving on...)

Also people can be put off by the abstract nature of the show, if done improperly the first act can seem meaningless, little more than a bunch of skits based on parables with songs here and there, and it seems a surprise when an actual story appears in act 2. When done right the first act shows how the community is brought together with the second act a continuation of the story.


Thu Feb 10, 2011 6:07 pm
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Post Re: Why the bad rap?
I think that one thing people should know is the how and why Godspell became the show it is today. The author of the show, apparently, was attending a service on Easter morning, and he felt that the whole thing was very oppressive. He wanted to shed the gospels in a different light. When Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak directed it, it was re-scored with all new music. Originally, the first author of Godspell, who was a student at Carnagie Mellon University, wrote the musical as a school project. It was intended to be a re-telling of the gospel according to Matthew (Godspell is derived from the word gospel). When Schwartz and Tebelak took the project over, they had a different idea as to what the play was all about. Rather than a light-hearted retelling of the gospels, it was now a story all about the forming of a community. They also didn't address the divinity of Jesus at all in the play. To them it wasn't important that he was God's Son or that he rose from the dead; he was a really great teacher who could bring people together. As a Christian, this (to me) takes away the entire point of the gospels; my faith is based on the belief that God sent His only Son, representative of Himself, to die in our place. If Jesus was just another man, what would make him any different than other great minds, such as Socrates or Plato?


Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:18 pm
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Post Re: Why the bad rap?
Hate to nitpick: John-Michael Tebelak was the original author and director of the show; it was he who had the Easter morning service experience. Tebelak, Duane Bolick (a musician/med student friend of Tebelak's), and some of the cast (Jeff Mylett and Peggy Gordon, the latter contributing "By My Side") constructed a score consisting of the lyrics from Episcopal hymns set to new music (Tebelak was a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church, and briefly thought of becoming a priest; even did a stint in seminary). Stephen Schwartz only entered the scene Off-Broadway when the producers wanted a more commercial score that would cross over with the teenage public; he retained the hymnal lyrics and the song "By My Side," and re-did almost everything else score-wise.

Also, I think it's safe to say Schwartz is really the guy who's pushed the "formation of a community" line more than anyone, most recently in his director's notes for the script published in 1999. In reading Tebelak's script, and comparing especially "God's" opening monologue to previous material, it seems to be a (then-)current take on the medieval mystery play format, nothing more than that. It is arguable that Tebelak's work was in fact rooted in faith, given his later career path; aside from some obscure Off-Broadway and Broadway credits, the biggest thing Tebelak was known for was Godspell, and he went on to become dramaturge for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York and staged liturgical drama there.

What I dislike about the post above, as both a minister* and a theater fan, is that it seems to attempt to cast Godspell in the light of "it would have been more faithful, but then profane show business got their hands on it." That is not the case, by any stretch of the imagination. As it stands, it is a fairly faithful adaptation of the Gospel According to St. Matthew, and it casts new light on the teachings of Christ in a manner with which people can identify. What is the harm in that?

There is one thing about which DrummerDude is entirely correct: If Jesus was just another man, what would make him any different than other great minds, such as Socrates or Plato? For that matter, if Jesus is just another god, what makes him any different than other gods, such as Bacchus/Dionysus, who turned water into wine; Mithras, who was born on December 25, died for our sins, was buried in a rock-cut tomb and rose from the dead three days later; and any of the other "sixteen crucified saviors" so famously written about by Kersey Graves? The answer is, absolutely nothing, but it shouldn't, and doesn't, matter. The words are still important, because people believe them, and because they do provide an ethically satisfying, straightforward way of life that people can live by: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As Tebelak himself once said, "Be it Jesus or Krishna, the message is the same."

*Long story, folks. Long story...

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Tue Feb 21, 2012 4:58 pm
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Fresh Face
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Post Re: Why the bad rap?
I think that this is so because of two things; A. When Godspell first came out, most people in the churches were conservative. They thought, then (as it was), that this was a radical change from the parables of Jesus that they grew up with. This was retelling the parables with rock and pop music, which was associated (especially then) with a rebellious nature in general. B. The second point is that many felt is was sacrilegious because it protrayed Jesus as a clown leading a bunch of other clowns around. From what I've heard, the author simply wanted to put the gospels in a more uplifting light- thus the clowns and comedy to brighten things up.
That's about all I've got. Hope it helps!


Tue Feb 21, 2012 9:22 pm
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