Book by John-Michael Tebelak, based on the “Gospel According to St Matthew”. Music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Lyrics to “By My Side” by Jay Hamburger. Music to “By My Side” by Peggy Gordonby Ed Kleban. The original Broadway production opened on 22 June 1976 and was directed by John-Michael Tebelak. The production closed on 4 September 1988, running for a total of 527 performances.
Synopsis and Musical Numbers
A group of 10 young people gather in a playground surrounded by a high wire fence. To stress their ordinariness, they are called by the first names of the actors. They carry with them a box filled with clothes. Each of the group puts on a T-shirt bearing the name of a famous prophet or thinker: John the Baptist, Jesus, Socrates, Da Vinci, Gibbon, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre and Buckminster Fuller (OPENING). The leader kicks off with a quotation appropriate to his T-shirt, and the others follow in turn with the accumulated enlightenment of the ages. These ideas range from Aquinas’ “God is apprehended by the imagination” to Sartre’s “Man is a complex of patterns, of processes” (TOWER OF BABBLE).
Then John the Baptist steps forward to talk about the coming of the Lord and he effectively silences the gathering by the direct simplicity of his statement (PREPARE YE THE WAY OF THE LORD). When he has finished, the group take off their T-shirts, shedding the confused tongues of the theorists for John’s simple wisdom. They don clown costumes and then they are converted and baptised by John. The leader now assumes the role of Jesus, his T-shirt bearing a large ‘S’, and he declares the purpose of Christ’s mission on Earth is to SAVE THE PEOPLE. The group are ecstatic as they pray to the Lord (DAY BY DAY).
The group now retell various parables from Matthew and Luke (LEARN YOUR LESSONS WELL / BLESS THE LORD). One sparks off a dialogue between Jesus and Judas about the gulf between the rich and poor (ALL FOR THE BEST). This eventually leads on to the parable of the sower and the seed, and a mood of thanksgiving for the simple things (ALL GOOD GIFTS). After an enactment of the prodigal son, a celebratory note is sounded, a trestle table is set up on stage, and the audience is invited up for a drink of wine during the interval (LIGHT OF THE WORLD).
The second act opens with a song urging the gathering to change its ways (TURN BACK, O MAN). One of the players asks Jesus, “By whose authority are you acting like this?” Jesus proceeds to re-enact his last days on Earth (BEAUTIFUL CITY).
As Pharisees, some of the group try to trick Jesus by asking him whether Jews must pay taxes to Rome, but he evades them (ALAS FOR YOU). The next trap is set over the adulterous woman, but Jesus answers that “only the one who is faultless shall throw the first stone.” After the woman is released, she asks to be one of Christ’s followers (BY MY SIDE).
To try to forget Jesus’ approaching fate the company light-heartedly mock the way in which some people are converted (WE BESEECH THEE). At the Last Supper, Jesus holds up a mirror to show them their worldly appearances (DAY BY DAY – REPRISE). They remove their clown makeup as Jesus bids each of them farewell (ON THE WILLOWS). He then climbs the fence where he hangs with outstretched arms as in the Crucifixion (FINALE).
Purchases from Amazon.com
Selected Godspell MP3’s from the 2001 Touring Cast recording can be purchased and downloaded by following the links in the synopsis above.
From left to right above: 1. Godspell 1971 Original Off-Off-Broadway Cast CD. 2. Godspell 1972 Sydney Cast Recording CD. 3. Godspell 1973 Film Soundtrack CD. 4 Godspell 1993 London Studio Cast Recording CD. 5. Godspell 2000 Off-Broadway Cast Recording CD.