Review - Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 11/13 & Theatre Quote of the Week
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by Michael Dale
"The truest expression of a people is in its dances and its music. Bodies never lie."
The grosses are out for the week ending 11/13/2011 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: SEMINAR (14.8%), MARY POPPINS (13.1%), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (10.8%), CHINGLISH (10.5%), MEMPHIS (8.8%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (8.5%), CHICAGO (8.2%), MAMMA MIA! (8.1%), VENUS IN FUR (7.5%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (6.6%), ANYTHING GOES (5.6%), Hugh Jackman, BACK ON BROADWAY (5.5%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (4.7%), PRIVATE LIVES (4.6%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (4.0%), ROCK OF AGES (3.7%), MAN AND BOY (3.5%), THE MOUNTAINTOP (3.2%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (3.2%), JERSEY BOYS (3.2%), BONNIE AND CLYDE (2.7%), GODSPELL (2.4%), WAR HORSE (1.6%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (1.3%), WICKED (1.1%),
Just like Pope Paul VI figured when The Vatican told followers to go ahead and celebrate mass in the vernacular, John-Michael Tebelak figured that if the musical he penned with Stephen Schwartz, based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, was going to connect with young people, it had to be done in their language. So when Godspell premiered Off-Broadway forty years ago, the son of God and his disciples were depicted as soft pop and folk singing flower children who were too busy learning how to spread love to be bothered with sex, drugs and burning their draft cards. Arriving on Broadway after Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, it was the first major rock musical that didn't scare the hell out of parents.
But Tebelak was blessed with the knowledge that the hippie culture wasn't going to last forever, so once Godspell was made available to regional and amateur groups he included a note with each script encouraging directors, designers and actors to freely update, vary and interpret the material as they like. The only constants necessary were the words spoken by Jesus, which are mostly quotes from scripture, and Schwartz's score.
So there's no nostalgia involved in director Daniel Goldstein's souped-up 21st Century reinvention of the show that's giddily moved into Circle in the Square. Sure, it's still a collection of songs and parable-themed sketches performed by a young and energetic cast, but while Godspell was created as something mildly counter-culture, this mounting is aggressively pop culture. It's almost a satirical statement that Jesus (Hunter Parrish) is presented as a golden boy television reality pop star with charisma gleaming out of an adorable adolescent smile and a singing voice perfectly suited for modern electronic enhancements.
The terrific supporting company of strong singers with good comic chops first appears in the Tower of Babel sequence representing Jean-Paul Sartre, L. Ron Hubbard, MariAnne Williamson and other noted philosophers and theologists, only to have their over-thinking dismissed in favor of the simple message that pleasing the Lord ain't brain surgery; it just requires an open heart.
The musical's original players represented the kind of 1970s youths that generally wouldn't be found attending what was the contemporary Broadway fare (aside from the smattering of rock musicals), but the new cast reflects the kind of Internet-educated, cast album loving Broadway geeks that have helped shows like Godspell's upstairs neighbors, Wicked, enjoy long, healthy runs. The ensemble gives the appearance of having been plucked from a college Drama Department's musical theatre division; slick, professional and as enthusiastic about vaudeville, high camp and lowdown blues as they are about hip-hop and contemporary Latino sounds. There's even a bit of improv involved when audience members are brought on stage for rounds of charades and Pictionary.
In one bit, Telly Leung lets fly with a quickly rattled string of movie star impersonations, including Barbara Streisand, Katherine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Stewart and Vivian Leigh. References to Occupy Wall Street, Steve Jobs and Moammar Gadhafi are as appropriate today as jabs about Anita Bryant and Richard Nixon were in the original.
Michael Holland's new streetwise arrangements give the score a little more guts, lending a pronounced backbeat to many of the numbers and supplying more of a multi-ethnic urban pallet. Wallace Smith anchors the show vocally and emotionally with a strong masculine presence in the traditionally doubled-up roles of John the Baptist and Judas. Celisse Henderson and Lindsay Mendez sport knockout voices and George Salazar is aces at nerdy humor. Understudy Julia Mattison was a laugh-riot singing "Turn Back, O Man" as a 1960s style Bond girl ("Surprise! I slipped into your Playbill," she vamps to a customer.) , but the whole company, including Uzo Aduba, Nick Blaemire, and Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, delivers on their moments to shine.
Set designer David Korins' makes great use of the tricky in-the-round space (it's really shaped like a small hockey rink) and Christopher Gattelli's bright and cheery dances come to a festive climax when trap doors in the floor reveal mini-trampolines that are incorporated into the choreography for "We Beseech Thee." It's by far the best use of trampolines in that building since the days of Via Galactica.