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BWW Review: GODSPELL, Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre


Great songs, great enthusiasm but a dated show

BWW Review: GODSPELL, Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre

BWW Review: GODSPELL, Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Godspell is now as old as its protagonist one and a half times over - jeez, when did that happen? What emerges is a show that oscillates between songs that sound as fresh as if they were minted yesterday and a structure that, despite one or two contemporary references and a very funny puppet show, still feels dated, a bit too Sesame Street, 18 years on from Avenue Q and a decade after The Book of Mormon.

A group of young men and women, fired with the certainty that only religious awakening can bring, sit at the feet of their teacher, Jesus Christ (Alex White in Superman vest) and act out his parables - life lessons that vary from the profound to the trite, from the brutal to the benign. In the decade since last I saw a production of this show, much has changed in the world and it's become harder to simply allow some of this stuff to slide past the ears of an atheist like me. Others will, naturally, refrain from saying Amen to that sentiment.

The show is sold on the enthusiasm of our hippyish friend - jeans, bandanas and tie-dye T-shirts - and Stephen Schwartz's timeless tunes set to the lyrics of ancient hymns. The best song, "Day By Day", is beautifully delivered, balanced between a personal introduction by Naomi Cowe then growing into a collective ecstasy, it's Christmas Day and Easter Sunday rolled into one. Others grow beyond the traditional ridiculous staging (did we really need the goats and sheep a-baaing and a-maaing in 2021?) but songs like "We Beseech Thee" and "Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord" are simply too good to be spoiled by anything!

The band are excellent throughout and, a rare problem indeed in a fringe venue, are sometimes in danger of being drowned out by the singers, belting their vocals in a space that might not need quite so much power! It's sometimes a little exhausting to watch too, our ten new friends leaping, dancing and darting about, occasionally sat cross-legged in a circle, but never for long!

It's perfectly acceptable entertainment for all but the most po-faced of religious / anti-religious fanatics, but one does descend the theatre's steps staircase wondering why a largely straightforward Godspell production, albeit with some innovations - the No Time To Die masks were very on point - is needed here and now. A more radical re-interpretation (it's had a few over the years) maybe? Or a Covid-restricted, socially-distanced presentation as a song cycle? Good fare though Godspell is for a nostalgic night out, it's a bit of a missed opportunity not to do even more with the source material.

Godspell is at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre until 10 October

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