THEATRICAL THROWBACK THURSDAY: Turn Back O' Man! GODSPELL Rewrites The Good Book
This week we are taking a look at one of the most popular and enduring Biblically-themed musicals ever written in honor of its Off-Broadway opening 43 years ago this very week, GODSPELL.
Day By Day
While Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR may have been first, Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak's GODSPELL cast a similar spell over the viewing public at the time of its premiere back in 1971, especially given the success of the hit breakout single version of earworm score standout "Day By Day", which managed to become a Top 20 hit that year. Although Schwartz's take on the Biblical iconography was much more flower child-friendly and free-spirited than the more serious and outwardly intellectual JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, it is mostly unfair to even compare the two vastly different musical experiments despite their similar source material. Indeed, GODSPELL is an experience like perhaps no other in the theatre and the community aspects of the piece as it is designed provide able actors with the opportunity to explore a close-knit company while performing the show that is a reliable joy to experience as an audience member when attending a production, as well. Every GODSPELL cast is different, therefore every production - and each formation of the cast therein - is its own idiosyncratic show in and of itself.
For some history: GODSPELL first opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre Off-Broadway on May 17, 1971, before moving to the Promenade Theatre three months later where it would eventually go on to rack up upwards of 2000 performances before transferring to Broadway at last in 1976. Besides those impressive performance credentials, the property was also famously translated into a big screen version in 1973, directed by David Greene and starring Victor Garber. Of note, Schwartz penned an endearing new song for the film version titled "Beautiful City" which has since been incorporated into the score for the stage show, as was most recently heard in the 2011 Broadway revival.
Besides "Day By Day", Schwartz's score is overflowing with catchy melodies and thought-provoking lyrical ideas, ranging from the jaunty "Turn Back O' Man" to the propulsive "We Beseech Thee" to the unforgettable show opener, "Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord", and many more.
So, now, let's take a look at some of the best GODSPELL-related clips showcasing the original 1971 production.
First up, the second cast of the 1971 original Off-Broadway production of GODSPELL appear on CBS's CAMERA THREE and perform several songs in this multi-part special titled PARABLES OF GODSPELL.
Also, view the 1973 cast of GODSPELL on THE TODAY SHOW, introduced by recently feted new retiree Barbara Walters.
As a special bonus, view a performance of the hit international single version of "Day By Day" as performed by Colleen Hewett.
What exactly is it about GODSPELL that keeps us humming along more than 40 years after its humble beginnings Off-Broadway? Is it the timeless tale being told? Is it the classic songs? Is it the unique performance opportunities it affords? Whatever the reason, GODSPELL certainly gives the good book a good name.