“Concert Musical” is a saying I have been hearing so much more recently and it made me think, what exactly is the definition? Through my research, some have said that it’s a celebration of a great musical and a fantastic way to put a show across, especially in regards to the established songs. A more business-styled answer has been that ‘it has all the appeal of a grand musical but with only a fraction of the time, money and resources needed for full-scale productions’. Godspell is neither of these, but rather a very smart mix between the two.
Godspell kicks off its UK tour in London, to which it is warmly received at the Hackney Empire. The tour has come about through the acclaimed one-off concert at the West End’s Lyric Theatre last year. It is no wonder that the production has returned to ‘spread the word’ again.
I, for one, knew little about the musical and had a worry that a concert version of Godspell could ignore any character introductions or plot points that I may need to make sense of it’s storyline. Luckily, this was not the case. The show centres around the teachings of Jesus and his followers. Together, they share stories about leading good lives, love, redemption and more whilst facing challenges along the way. Whether or not people can link together the entire show for themselves, they can still enjoy and relate to the many individual performances and numbers.
The set, as expected for a concert tour, is basic. Chairs at the front, orchestra in the back and stairs either side leading up higher ledge above for actors movement and the good old step-and-clap. The set is used extensively for what I thought was going to be a pretty much stand-still concert in comparison. For better and for worse, I was wrong.
The beginning feels held back and microphone skills from majority of the soloists puts their voice across as lacklustre and inconsistent. However, it is soon revealed that they may have been a technical thing as within five minutes, the company are blasting through the roof with vocal talent and confidence.
The singing skills of this talented cast are undeniable. So much so that anything that isn’t a great solo, crazy rift or beautifully-blended harmony falls slightly grey in comparison. The audience participation in the show is something I am still trying to wrap my head around about whether or not I think it’s necessary. Various front-row patrons are taken on stage to play charades and such in the theme of the teachings of Jesus. It seems overly-hammed up but for anyone who was getting tiresome of song-after-song definitely started to pay more attention and for a UK tour, this may grab the attention of the less frequent theatre goers or musical appreciators.
Dialogue is thin and majority of it is puns, specifically selected to humour a British audience. It is hit and miss. Mainly miss but as this tour progresses, the improvisation on this can improve and get slicker. The somewhat panto-styled humour fits in identically with the audience participation. I am not a fan but some audience members definitely are.
The whole company come off as a strong team throughout. The music is beautifully conducted by Russell Scott and the talented band. There is support from everyone and to everyone on that stage and it is great to see. Individual performances shine through just as much so as the group numbers. Harmonies are consistently on-point and vocals never cease to be anything but outstanding. The song ‘Learn Your Lessons Well’ still rings as a strong memory of the evening. Spectacular.
Godspell has television names such as Andy Abraham (X Factor) and Voice UK contestants like Mitch Miller and Leanne Jarvis to push its name out there. Those who came for these established individuals will not be disappointed, but equally impressed with other company members too such as Tom Senior, Laura Mansell, Jennifer Pots and Jason Broderick.
I really want to write about the individual vocal talents of majority of this cast, if not, all of them but I would definitely need permission to extend my review to a series of essays. They were all fantastic and it makes up for what can be seen as slightly over-directed and definitely over-choreographed. Maybe a few too many step-clap-run-around numbers for me. I may leave my opinion of the coloured-T-shirted, Joseph-like choir to myself.
With all this in mind, there still comes the question of, is Godspell a good choice for a concert UK tour? The production still struggles to find it’s balance between the professionalism and the panto but still pulls off an entertaining night. The consistency is off but the talent makes for a large chunk of it. The answer is yes. It will do well to opening the eyes of this musical to new people with its perfectly placed tour. However, those who know the musical and know it well, could afford to give it a miss or can go with the knowledge that what they are going for is songs just sung well. Incredibly well, mind you, but still, just that.
Review by Tomm Ingram
Godspell In Concert – The UK Tour 2015
The UK tour features a new, modern-day rock score packed to the heavens with favourites such as Light of the World, All Good Gifts and Day by Day. This timeless tale of friendship, loyalty and love has touched the hearts of countless theatregoers all over the world. Now UK theatre fans can join in the celebration as a spectacular ensemble is set to stir souls and raise spirits, together with a full live band.
Monday 6th April 2015