Godspell by York Light Opera Company
Upstage Centre Youth Theatre, 41 Monkgate, York
Until Sat Jun 27, 7.30pm; Sat matinee 2.30pm
Tickets from York Theatre Royal
I love Godspell. It’s been one of my favourite musicals since I first saw it live in the 1970s, with Robert Lindsay as Jesus.
I approached this revival by York Light Opera, publicised as an ‘update for the digital age’, with some trepidation. Would they do awful things to my well-loved show?
I needn’t have worried. Under the expert directorship of Hilary Dyson, the cast enchanted their first night audience with colour, charm, energy and sheer physicality.
The updating was done very cleverly, incorporating quotations and catchphrases from The X Factor, The Apprentice, I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, and even a snatch of music from Chariots Of Fire.
With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (who would go on to create Wicked), and script by John-Michael Tebelak, the show takes the Gospel of St Matthew and retells it using a variety of song and dance styles, and offbeat versions of parables such as the Good Samaritan.
This production adds a powerful and clever prologue, where the cast, dressed in black, enter the stage one by one, engrossed in a variety of digital gadgets, each accompanied by its own sound.
These sounds swell into a cacophony which stops suddenly with the arrival of John the Baptist, singing Prepare Ye, the original opening number.
I’m sure the cast must be grateful that the show is relatively short, because the energy they put into their performances must leave them exhausted.
The eight women and five men are all onstage for the majority of the show, and are always busy, never simply standing around waiting for their next line. Their energy and humour are absolutely infectious.
The whole cast was impressively talented, but even so, some really stood out for me. Kirsten Griffiths not only acted, danced, and belted out the songs, but also played a haunting flute part for We Plough the Fields and Scatter.
Cathy Atkin hit an amazingly powerful top D at the end of We Beseech Thee. Hilary Dyson vamped it up with a very effective feather boa in Turn Back, Oh Man.
Rich Hawley, as Judas, gave us a hilarious ‘death’ in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, including a full-length fall, straight onto the stage, which left me wincing!
While the rest of the cast had reappeared, after the prologue, top to toe in gaudy colours, Jesus – played by Daniel Radcliffe-lookalike Richard Weatherill – was in simple black and white. His performance was more subdued than the rest, fitting his character, and his portrayal of the crucifixion was genuinely moving.
Expert musical backing was provided by John Atkin, Paul McArthur, Barry Rickarby and Eddy Sparrow, under the leadership and direction of Phil Redding. I cannot fault director Hilary Dyson’s choreography, inventive staging, and excellent sightlines.
Although it is an older building, it was relatively easy for me in my wheelchair to get to the performance area, thanks to a lift, and several helpful people opening doors and showing us where to go.
There were a few problems, however. There was no one upstairs to show people to their seats, and no wheelchair space.
It took several minutes to find someone who could show me where my wheelchair could be placed, and when we located someone, she spoke to my sister about me and my wheelchair, instead of talking directly to me.
I must add that she and another person individually came to see me in the interval to check that everything was all right.
Although I was not happy to be partially blocking the entrance and exit of one block of seating, this turned out to be quite a help to some members of the audience.
The blocks of seating have an extremely high initial step, which caused problems for several people, and grabbing my chair actually helped them get up and down.
Godspell runs until Saturday (June 27). I urge you to go – you really won’t regret it.