I am most in majesty, In whom no beginning may be and no end. Highest in potency I am, And have been ever. I have made stars and planets in their courses to go. I have made a moon for the night and a sun to light the day also. I have made earth where trees and grasses spring, Beasts and fowl, both great and small, all thrive and have my liking.
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This is primarily because so much of the dramatic action, and virtually the entire action of the first act, is sub-textual.
The text of Act One is, after all, essentially just a series of lessons and parables in what appears to be no particular order. And while Act Two essentially follows the Passion story, with such familiar scenes as the interrogation of Jesus by the a Pharisees, the Last Supper, Gethsemene, and so on, it is still interspersed with stories and teachings. So it is easy for the show to appear formless, or worse, for the ten performers to degenerate into ten stand-up comics vying with one another for laughs and attention.
This is the diametric opposite of what Godspell is about. Above all, the first act of Godspell must be about the formation of a community. This happens through the playing of games and the telling and absorption of lessons, and each of the eight individuals has his or her own moment of committing to Jesus and to the community.
When Jesus applies clown make-up to their faces after "Save the People," he is having them take on an external physical manifestation that they are his disciples, temporarily separating them from the rest of society. But the internal journey of each character is separate and takes its individual course and period of time. Exactly when and why this moment of commitment occurs is one of the important choices each of the actors must make, in collaboration of course with the director.
At the end of the first act, the audience is invited to join the community through the sharing of wine or grape juice , mingling with the actors during intermission. In the second act, after an opening number that continues the sense of playfulness and includes some good-natured teasing of Jesus by his followers, Jesus announces: "This is the beginning. When Jesus removes their make-up, just prior to the Last Supper, he is saying that they have assimilated his teachings into themselves and no longer need the outward trappings that brand them as disciples.
And when Jesus is taken from them at the end, the rest of the company remain fused as a community, ready and able to carry forth the lessons they have learned. If this basic dramatic arc is not achieved, Godspell does not exist; no matter how amusing and tuneful individual moments may be, the production has failed. A few other general issues: It is important that Jesus be the leader at all times, that the energy and attitude of each "game" come from him, particularly in the first half of the first act.
It is easy for the show to appear to be "Jesus and his Nine Zany Friends;" this is wrong. If a misplaced reverence for Jesus causes him to be played too "serious" or passive, the balance of the show is distorted.
He is, if you will, the Chief Clown, and must drive the action at all times. Speaking of "Clowns," there are often misconceptions about the concept of the clown analogy in Godspell. For instance, sometimes it is misunderstood as the cast being "hippies" or "flower children. If it is difficult to find, copies may be ordered from the Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since we are on the subject of the character and personality of Jesus, it seems appropriate to discuss issues of casting at this time.
The original production of Godspell was performed by a cast of five men and five women. While many productions have been done with a different gender balance or with more or less people, the script reflects the original cast breakdown. For purposes of the program, the first names of the actors in each individual production may be substituted. In any given production, each actor will bring his or her own personality traits to the character, but it is helpful for the director to look for certain salient personality characteristics when casting each role.
This allows the individual cast members to be different enough from one another for the audience to distinguish them, and it makes the specific assignments of lines in the script make sense from a personality and character arc point-of-view.
Following is a brief description of each of the character types: Jesus - Must be the most charismatic individual in the cast. High energy, charming, funny, gentle but with strength. He is the sort of person others instinctively follow. Like Jesus, he is also charismatic, but in more of an overt revolutionary way. Usually played by someone handsome and masculine, with an undertone of sexuality. He is the most "serious" and intellectual of the group, though as with all the actors, he must still possess a good sense of physical comedy.
Jeffrey - Very high energy. Impish and playful. In the original, he played several musical instruments, including concertina and recorder. Lamar - Not the brightest in the bunch, he is a little slow on the uptake.
But there is a great sweetness and innocence about him. Because he sings "All Good Gifts," he must be a very good singer. Herb - The comedian, the class clown. The guy who can do a hundred voices and imitations. This is also the role that sings the least, so it is wise to cast it for a comedian rather than a vocalist. Robin - A bit of a tomboy, but basically open and sweet. She is the first of the group to commit to following Jesus in the song "Day by Day.
Peggy - The shy one. Sometimes a little slow to get things, but when she does, she commits all the way. Has an "earth mother" kind of warmth to her.
Sonia - Sassy and slightly cynical, the most urban of the group. Also the "sexy" one, but her sexiness contains a large element of put-on, in the manner of Mae West or Madonna who in fact once played this role.
Gilmer - The female equivalent of the class clown. Goofy and a cut-up. In addition to each individual being able to stand out, it is important that all be able to function as an ensemble, without any feeling that any one other than Jesus stands out above the others. Other important traits to look for in casting are comic ability and skill at improvisation. The style of playing is also important to mention. We used to tell cast members in the original production to imagine that the audience was composed of half adults and half children, some of whom were blind and some of whom were deaf.
The parables had to be made clear and entertaining to each of these groups. Thus the use of both sophisticated verbal humor and broad physical comedy, to appeal to all the age groups, and the reliance on acting out the stories visually for the "deaf" members of the audience and through the use of different voices and sounds for the "blind" members of the audience.
A last issue to discuss here is that of level of production values and tone. Three unfinished wooden planks and two sawhorses provided the rest of the scenery. All of the props and costume add-ons used in the show came out of garbage bags on stage or were hanging on the fence at the top of the show.
In lieu of area lighting, illumination was often provided by one or more of the nine PAR lights that were hung in three rows over the stage and which actors could turn on and off when they needed to be lit. In other words, there was an emphasis on simplicity, on "Theatre of Poverty," on theatrical magic created by the actors without "production values. The lighting, while colorful, was deliberately rudimentary. In other words, if the set looks too "pretty" or designed, the lighting too elaborate, or the production too polished, the essence of the show has been lost.
And while the setting need not be a graffiti-covered inner-city lot, a feeling of urban blight and poverty is integral to the mood of the show.
In the script that follows, I will attempt to include stage directions that describe what was done in the original production and discuss the underlying idea and purpose of the action. While a creative director is free to alter the specifics, it is important to remain true to the subtextual content, motivations, and dramatic structure.
Godspell Libretto [2012Revival]
This is primarily because much of the dramatic action, and virtually the entire action of the first act, is sub-textual. The text of Act One is, after all, essentially just a series of lessons and parables in what appears to be no particular order. And while Act Two essentially follows the Passion story, with such familiar scenes as the interrogation of Jesus by the Pharisees, the Last Supper, Gethsemene, and so on, it is still interspersed with stories and teachings. So it is easy for the show to appear formless, or worse, for the ten performers to degenerate into ten stand-up comics vying with one another for laughs and attention. This happens through the playing of games and the telling and absorption of lessons, and each of the eight individuals has his or her own moment of committing to Jesus and to the community. But the internal journey of each character is separate and takes its individual course and period of time.
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The song consists of the eight disciples or soloists acting out as philosophers, each singing about their various philosophies. They grow increasingly more irritated with each other, sing in contradiction, and eventually run out of words. Ron Hubbard , and Marianne Williamson , respectively. On many early cast recordings, including the original off-Broadway recording and the original London recording, the prologue was omitted in order to produce an album that could sell as a pop album. This omission was for marketing purposes and was not meant to diminish the importance of the number, as Stephen Schwartz has repeatedly stated. As a consequence, some audiences have gotten the impression that this number was added into the score later.