FLASH SPECIAL: Hallelujah! Broadway's Recent Religious Fervor, From JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR To THE BOOK OF MORMON To SCANDALOUS
To mark the start of previews for the Biblically-themed SCANDALOUS, subtitled "The Life And Trials Of Aimee Semple McPherson" and based on the iconic Christian's impossible-to-believe, yet all-too-real real-life story, today we are taking a look back at the recent religious fervor on the Great White Way, particularly given the faith-centered original musicals THE BOOK OF MORMON, SISTER ACT and LEAP OF FAITH, to say nothing of the recent revivals of the seminal 70s rock musicals JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and GODSPELL. Hell - ahem, heck - we even just got an Off-Broadway revival of CARRIE (and a new cast album, too)!
Bless Our Show
God and gowns go well together - just ask the Catholic Church - yet the abundance of Broadway musicals somehow relating to religious themes in the last few seasons on Broadway is certainly something to sing about - from the politically incorrect Tony Award-winning Best Musical smash of the century, Trey Parker & Matt Stone's THE BOOK OF MORMON, to the short-running Alan Menken screen-to-stage adaptation LEAP OF FAITH, in addition to Menken's own SISTER ACT, the Bible-based original musicals are nearly matched in number by the religious revivals in the case of the celebrated concept musicals GODSPELL, by Stephen Schwartz, and, of course, the Big Daddy of them all, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. As a matter of fact, Lloyd Webber recently held a UK TV casting search for the new lead in an area tour spectacular of the rock opera, directed by PHANTOM 25 helmer Laurence Conner, and the fresh, hi-tech, futuristic take on the show will be shown as a special theatrical event in Fathom-equipped movie theaters nationwide on October 29 and November 1, All Souls Day (coincidence or fate?). Besides the SUPERSTAR event in movie theaters this month, next month we shall also see the opening of Kathie Lee Gifford's SCANDALOUS on Broadway, a family-friendly bio-musical centering on the idiosyncratic life of the controversial religious figure covering several decades and featuring her high highs and, well, oh-so-scandalous lows.
As if the recent rash of religion in the subjects portrayed in the aforementioned musicals were not enough, Broadway babies' dreams have at long, long last finally come true now that the recent Off-Broadway revival of the infamous Broadway bomb based on the terrifying teen trauma-themed Stephen King novel (and subsequent Brian De Palma film of the same name), CARRIE, has finally been officially preserved on record, with the cast album available to order. Eve may have been weak, but the scores of these shows we are discussing today are all seriously, somewhat shockingly strong and go a long way in explicating the power of prayer, if only as an ideal moment for dramatical (or, in the case of MORMON, comedically) musicalization. And, Lord knows, they work more often than not! Seeing the stark contrast of the subjects and the creators' treatment of them - timid hippie clowns in GODSPELL to angry revolutionaries in SUPERSTAR to down home gospel goodness in LEAP OF FAITH to disco divas in habits in SISTER ACT to the titular door-knockers of the bitingly acerbic BOOK OF MORMON; to say nothing of the Gothic melodrama and unforgettable horrors of CARRIE - it is more than merely evident that religious themes are a rich basis for dramatic and musical depiction. God is a trend that shall continue to reign for many decades to come.
Could a new Moses musical (lest we forget Danny Kaye in TWO BY TWO, written by no less than Richard Rodgers, in 1970) be on the Broadway horizon some season soon? Perhaps another Old Testament tale - the life of Abraham? Or, maybe a Mary Magdalene megamusical ala REBECCA? Who knows?! Whatever the weather, one can be sure that yet another revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF can't be too far off, so there's always that. Tradition? Tradition. Consider it a blessing.
Gather Round Ye Sinners
So, gather round ye sinners and let us pay the highest praise to the faith-oriented shows we have recently been witness to as we look ahead to SCANDALOUS opening on Broadway, CARRIE hitting iTunes and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR arriving in movie theaters, all in these days leading up to the high holy day of the devil, Halloween - and, of course, All Souls Day. Hallelujah!
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's groundbreaking 1970 rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR simply broke the mold of what a musical could be, from conception to enaction - we must remember, no one had ever created a rock score quite like this before and the method of releasing it as a concept album before it was even performed in concert, let alone fully staged or produced in the West End or on Broadway, was nothing short of revolutionary. SUPERSTAR is the show that started them all - not only religious-based musicals as a viable theatrical subject, but the reign of Andrew Lloyd Webber as the world's topmost theatrical composer.
First up, here is the 2012 Tony Awards performance of "Superstar" by the revival cast of the Des McAnuff production, led by the charismatic Josh Young who makes a major mark with it.
Next, enjoy late-90s West End revival Jesus Steve Balsamo delivering an earth-shattering "Gethsemane" in 2004.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, alongside Melanie C, Tim Minchin and Ben Forster, discusses the reality casting competition leading up to the new UK arena tour coming to theaters soon and then give a preview by performing "Everything's Alright" on UK TV's THE Jonathan Ross SHOW.
Following that, here is the trailer for Fathom's 2012 movie theater presentation of the brand new arena production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR: The UK Rock Spectacular, playing on October 29 and November 1.
Stephen Schwartz's folk and pop-flecked score for GODSPELL could not sound more different than SUPERSTAR (let alone the others shows on our countdown), yet it, too, has its devoted worshippers thanks to catchy crossover hits like the Top Ten smash "Day By Day" (famously reclaimed by Ben Stiller in MEET THE PARENTS, to those who didn't catch it the first time around). GODSPELL continues to be produced around the country as much if not more than in previous decades, displaying the sway that the humble power of the clown-besotted Bible-based tuner has over audiences young and old.
So, take a listen to the huge hit song from the show as captured on the 1971 Original Cast Recording and hear why GODSPELL has endured for generations and likely will for many more.
The Broadway revival cast, led by WEEDS star Hunter Parrish, perform a medley of hits from the show on THE VIEW below.
Parrish sings a new song written for the film version by Schwartz, "Beautiful City", in this entrancing studio-set clip.
As a bonus, experience the ensuing hilarity of Ben Stiller's "Day By Day" in MEET THE PARENTS.
Alan Menken penned not one, but two Christianity-centered musicals in the last decade and both had the relative fortune (or misfortune) of reaching Broadway in the last two seasons. First came SISTER ACT, based on the super-successful 1990s Whoopi Goldberg film and its sequel, which began in the West End and crowned - or, should I say, habit-ed - a new superstar in sensational lead Patina Miller. Setting the clock back a few years and placing the action of the musical comedy in Philadelphia circa the late 1970s, Menken takes his chance to get down with disco and flirt with funk - even inserting a little proto-rap hip-hop - with relish.
First up, enjoy this fun promo video of the original West End sisters of SISTER ACT taking on the thrilling, heart-stopping Vegas-style opener, "Take Me To Heaven".
Singing one of the most unforgettable "I Want" numbers since FUNNY GIRL, witness one of the many reasons why Patina Miller is a diva of divas with this stupendous turn on THE Wendy Williams SHOW and her singing the instant earworm "Fabulous, Baby".
Now, catch Whoopi Goldberg herself introducing the Broadway cast of SISTER ACT on the 2011 Tony Awards, where they sang the showstopper "Raise Your Voice". Hosanna!
Disney megastar Raven-Symone stepped into Patina Miller's high heels in April and you can get a glimpse of her portrayal of Deloris Van Cartier below with the cute "Bless Our Show".
LEAP OF FAITH
While SISTER ACT eked out a longer run than LEAP OF FAITH, the latter possessed many charms that may have slipped by those who were not devoted enough to the cause to catch it during its sinfully short run - namely, missing out on some spirited barn-burners backed by a fiery, fleet-footed ensemble, with all given godly gravitas by Broadway mainstay Raul Esparza. Our prayers may be answered soon enough, though, for those seeking a reprise, since Menken recently tweeted that the show will soon receive a cast recording after all. Thank Heavens!
Click below to check out the first production of LEAP OF FAITH, out of town in Los Angeles, headlined by Esparza and Brooke Shields.
After that, see some of the multitude of changes gone into effect with this roof-raising rehearsal video for the Broadway mounting - sparkly silver-sequined jacket included!
Also, don't miss BWW TV's extensive video clip reel of performance highlights from the Broadway production.
Lastly, enjoy the exhilaration of the congregation with this performance by the Broadway cast on the 66th annual Tony Awards. Rise up, indeed!
THE BOOK OF MORMON
The hit of hits, THE BOOK OF MORMON is lightning in a bottle and the first Broadway show since WICKED to really reach the American zeitgeist in a major way - and the West End is next; then, one suspects, the world. With all of the profanity insanity and colorful political commentary expected - and much more, actually - from the brains behind SOUTH PARK, THE BOOK OF MORMON is the Bible done blue and a Mormon's worst nightmare. Uh... hello?!
Stephen Colbert introduced Andrew Rannells at the 2011 Tony Awards, performing the show's standout solo turn, "I Believe". Check out my extensive InDepth InterView with the new NEW NORMAL crossover star from earlier this year where he discusses the song's inception here. Certainly, this performance is something to believe in!
That same night, Nikki M. James emotionally accepted her Tony Award for Best Featured Actress In A Musical for her triumphant work in MORMON.
Trey Parker, Matt Stone, director Casey Nicholaw and more talk MORMON with 60 MINUTES in this revealing look at the creation of the show and its subsequent public reception.
Continuing the cause and spreading the good (bad?) word even further, the 2012 Tony Awards kicked off with the instantly recognizable opening number from MORMON, "Hello", with some special appearances by Broadway's best - among them, host Neil Patrick Harris.
While Carrie May not immediately remind many of religion given all the other hot-button topics broached within it - menstruation, bullying, teen angst, highsccool politics, insanity, murder and telekinesis being foremost - it undoubtedly is one of the most profound studies in the subject ever presented on the stage. Margaret White is a villain and a monster like few others depicted in drama - as titanic and seemingly absurd a fictional figure as true-life Aimee Semple McPherson, as a matter of fact - and the moments in CARRIE shared between mother and daughter are some of the finest musical theatre writing of the last several decades. At points, CARRIE is so good it's scary (as for the rest, it is a discussion for another column).
The entire original 1988 Stratford mounting of CARRIE featuring Barbara Cook is available on YouTube. There has never been a musical like her - and there definitely never will be again!
Enjoy this clip of the Broadway production of CARRIE that came shortly thereafter, showcasing Betty Buckley as a domineering dominatrix semi-demagogue of a Margaret in a shattering performance for the ages.
CARRIE finally made her way back to New York this year and you can sample some of Stafford Arima's completely reconceived and largely rewritten take on it in BWW TV's exclusive coverage below.
Sample the rocking and rollicking opening number for the show as represented on the brand new 2012 cast recording while you are at it. Who doesn't want to be "In"?
As a special bonus, check out this teaser for the new Kimberly Peirce-directed film adaptation of the King novel.
To tell the God's honest truth, talk show queen Kathie Lee Gifford is even more recognized for making her opinions known than for her love of the theatre (as exceptionally great as it may be; she did essay Sondheim in PUTTING IT TOGETHER on the author's own suggestion, after all) so let's all pray that she can take the critical heat come opening night for SCANDALOUS, set for November 15 - come heaven or hell. Is Broadway really ready for a tale as tall as that of Hurricane Aimee?
Carolee Carmello and Roz Ryan lead performance highlights from SCANDALOUS in this promotional video also featuring interviews with the cast and creative team of the new musical.
Also, catch the cast of SCANDALOUS at this year's Broadway On Broadway, led by Carmello.
Finally, enjoy the cast - namely, Carolee Carmello and George Hearn - along with Kathie Lee Gifford as they discuss SCANDALOUS with BWW TV's Richie Ridge in this exclusive behind the scenes video.
So, what religious revival on our list set your spirit aflame the most while it was up and running, GODSPELL or JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR? Furthermore, can you wait for the all new, ultra-modern SUPERSTAR coming to theaters at the end of this month? What about SCANDALOUS? Also, what other recent original musical with a Bible bent has given you true salvation more than any other - SISTER ACT or LEAP OF FAITH? Or, if none of the above, do you prefer your religious musicals more outrageous comedy ala THE BOOK OR MORMON or horrific domestic tragedy like CARRIE? There's something for everyone these days thanks to takes on the Testaments this truly thrilling. Preach it!
From This Author Pat Cerasaro