Musicals draw inspiration from a wide variety of places: books, films, real-life events and people…and even religion. One of the best known musicals to have a religious theme to it would be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, which first opened on Broadway back in 1971 and was most recently seen when The Lord revived the award-winning show as a modernised production for an arena tour in 2012. It was due to travel overseas this summer to play to audiences around the US, but the North American leg of the tour was cancelled just ten days before its first performance on 9th June 2014. While the revival of JCS seemingly ran its course however, a new musical based on the stories of the Bible appeared with the potential to become a fan favourite in the ‘religious musical’ department. Love Beyond premièred at the Brighton Centre on 13th October 2013, and to such success, that it came to London to play two further dates at the SSE Arena, Wembley in October 2014.
There was one more musical which borrows from the Bible that made a newsworthy impact on the theatre industry this year. Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell returned for a special charity gala night in the West End earlier this year, with a special concert performance staged at Shaftesbury Avenue’s Lyric Theatre on 19th May 2014 in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation UK. This year marks the show’s 43rd anniversary, and the celebrations will continue into 2015 as that one-night-only performance is set to transform into a full blown tour of the UK.
It was announced on Wednesday (12th November 2014) that Godspell is to embark on a 3-month tour next year, starting at the Hackney Empire, London on 4th April 2015. The concert performance, which was a sold-out success at the Lyric in May 2014, is based on the 2011 Broadway revival. It features a ‘brand new, modern-day rock score’ under the guidance of musical director Russell Scott, who is also producing the tour alongside Mark Pettitt. Kenneth Avery Clark directs the critically-acclaimed production, although there is no word as of yet in regards to casting for the tour.
The May concert starred Stewart Clarke in the leading role of Jesus, supported by fellow stage performers Andy Abraham, Zoe Tyler, Katie Paine, Rob Houchen, Turlough Convery Jason Broderick, Laura Darton, Shekinah McFarlane and Jennifer Potts. The impressive cast were backed on stage by a full ensemble choir comprising members of the Maida Vale Singers and pupils from the American Musical Theatre Academy London. Perhaps some of them will reprise their roles for the show’s next chapter?
Godspell is the classic rock musical by Stephan Schwartz (music & lyrics) and John-Michael Tebelak (book) which first found success Off-Broadway, where it ran for five years. It made its West End début at the Wyndham’s Theatre in 1972 following a popular run at the Roundhouse Theatre, London. The musical is billed as a ‘timeless tale of friendship, loyalty and love’ and features such classic songs as ‘Day By Day’, ‘Light Of The World’ and ‘Turn Back O Man’, performed by a 10-strong company of performers who are all on stage for the entirety of the show. The original London cast included Marti Webb, Gay Soper, Johanna Cassidy, Julie Covington, Neil Fitzwilliam, Jeremy Irons, Verity-Anne Meldrum, Deryk Parkin and Tom Saffery, led by David Essex in the role which spring-boarded his career.
Speaking about the UK Tour of Godspell, producer/musical director Russell Scott said: “Producing Godspell in Concert at the Lyric Theatre was an incredible experience and brought the production back to the West End for the first time in 43 years. The new rock score is fantastic and brings the show into the modern day. Since the West End gala, we have worked tirelessly to bring Godspell back to the UK and on tour for the first time in almost 10 years in our new semi-staged concert format. It was a huge pleasure working with such a talented cast and creative team and we now look forward to taking the show on the road.”
Godspell has always been a show more loved for its score than its book and is as closely bound to Schwartz as a successful composer as Pippin and Wicked are, but while it is never going to achieve the same level of longevity such musicals as Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera have reached, it nevertheless remains close to many people’s hearts. Next year’s tour is likely to be as much of a hit with fans as the gala performance was.
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Thursday 13th November 2014