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Godspell

When writer John-Michael Tebelak first came up with the idea of Godspell — a contemporary re-telling of the Gospel of St. Matthew — his vision of the musical as a street performance was unusual, but one that won over both critics and theater-goers, as Godspell ran for several years in New York and in venues around the world, and even today it is a staple of summer-stock theater everywhere. However, David Greene's 1973 filmed adaptation of Tebelak's play put a unique stamp on Godspell, for, unlike staged productions, this version of the musical actually takes place in the streets of New York, allowing the viewers to follow the performers as they visit well-known locations and illustrate various parables from Matthew with the hammy sort of street-acting that reaches back to the commedia dell'arte. This oft-told tale needs no summary, but from the opening of the film (John the Baptist meets Jesus and baptizes him) to the conclusion (the betrayal by Judas and the crucifixion at Calvary), director Greene and his energetic cast find inventive ways to address the first Gospel, even though some of the bits are more annoying than entertaining (sort of like how a mime can wear out his welcome in a matter of seconds). Passion plays and pantomime aside, Stephen Schwartz' enormously catchy score is why Godspell became such a popular American musical, and the cast here (all culled from previous stage productions) comes up with first-rate performances. Standouts include "Save the People," "By My Side," the soft-shoe number "All For The Best," and the infectious, stuck-in-your-head-all-day signature tune "Day By Day." Starring Victor Garber, David Haskell, Lynne Thigpen, Robin Lamont, and Katie Hanley. Excellent anamorphic transfer from a pristine source print, the original mono (DD 2.0), cast notes, song-selection menu (a feature all musicals on DVD should have), and previews for Bye Bye Birdie and Oliver!.
—JJB



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