Friday, June 1, 2018

A Hippie Gospel

This is my entry in the Broadway Bound Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room

In 1973 two Broadway musicals were released as films.  The more memorable one, based on the proliferation of songs released as singles and it's box office success, was Jesus Christ, Superstar.  But the second film (which was actually released first, chronologically) was in itself a unique movie.  Both ostensibly tell the story of Jesus from the gospels of the Christian Bible but, although Jesus Christ, Superstar cast all the characters as a group of performers enacting the Passion Play in costume, Godspell chose to enact the story with a bunch of hippies in modern day New York City.  Godspell also does not specifically name any of the characters, including that of Jesus (Victor Garber).  The character that is supposed to be representing Jesus is only referred to as "Master" and the rest of the cast, supposedly representing the disciples, are also incognito during the movie.

Godspell (1973):

A character ostensibly representing John the Baptist (David Haskell), playing a shofar, and dragging a elaborately decorated wheelbarrow through New York City, calls several people to leave their stressful lives and join him.   They are drawn to a fountain in Central Park where John baptizes them.

  The Master (Jesus, played by Garber) appears and asks to be baptized. 

The city of New York suddenly becomes deserted.  (Not through some miracle of Jesus, just that in no scenes that take place in the middle of the movie feature any indication that there is anybody else left in the entire city.  Not important to the plot, at least I don't think, but I thought it was interesting that you don't even see any traffic in long shots...)  The cast of 10, The Master, John and 8 disciples seem to be alone in the city.

As mentioned above, the cast members are never addressed by any names.  The credits call them by their actor or actress names, so that Robin Lamont is "Robin",  Lynne Thigpen is "Lynne", Gilmer McCormick is "Gilmer", Merrell Jackson is "Merrell", Jeff Mylett is "Jeffrey", Katie Hanley is "Katie", Joane Jonas is "Joanne" and Jerry Sroka is "Jerry".

Through the film, several teachings and parables are delivered, mostly by the Master, but on a couple of occasions one of the other cast members delivers the teaching.  The only really memorable song, at least in my opinion, is "Day by Day" sung by "Robin".  This song was released as a single and I can remember hearing it on the radio back then as a child.  It made the top 40 peaking at #13 according to Billboard charts.

The movie was based mostly on the Gospel of Matthew, although some segments were taken from other Gospels.  It did garner a bit of criticism, especially from the evangelical community.  Most objections centered on the fact that the movie does not address a resurrection of the Jesus character, an essential point in the story for the Christian religion.  Also at issue was the face painting of the cast, which was viewed as turning the characters into clowns.

Viewed as just a movie with a message, not as a movie that has a message of the divinity of the Christ character, this movie can be very entertaining.  The religious aspect of it may cause some people to teeter over into the negative, either from its lack of a resurrection scene for the evangelical, or just as offensive to people who already have some negative views to religion in general, but watched with an open mind, the music and story is quite good.

Drive home safely, folks.  And be good to each other on the way.



  1. I've seen a couple of stage productions of Godspell, but only saw the movie once. I like its energy.

    Have you read Martin Short's "I Must Say: My Life as a Comedy Legend"? He writes about the 1972 Toronto production of Godspell. It was his first big job, along with Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas and Eugene Levy. Paul Shaffer was the music director. The play certainly was a great launching pad for them, and probably many others.

    1. I've never seen the book. Didn't know Short had written one. Have to look for it. Thanks for reading.

  2. A good review that stirred up memories of my one and only time seeing this on TV back in the early '80s. I liked it then, and thought Jesus wearing a Superman shirt was cool. I wonder if Mork from Ork based his big-hair and suspenders look on Garber's Jesus?

    I remember being taken aback by its ending without a resurrection. How can you leave that out?

    "Day by Day" is a great song, and I remember also enjoying "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord," which starts out slow and really picks up speed and adds voices to become a rousing number. I'm gonna look it up on YouTube now--haven't heard it in years! Thanks again for the memories!

    1. There are a couple of good songs in it. A couple that didn't stir me. I thought it was interesting. Meant to delve more into the hippie Christian movement that spawned it but time crept up on me. thanks for reading.

  3. I've tried to watch this film, but I get frustrated with it. And the empty streets of New York are too distracting. I knew people who said it was the Best Movie Ever, and I had high hopes which were not realized.

    However, now that I've read your review, I think I might give this another shot, and cut it more slack. Thanks!

    1. I'm of a mind that you can't be on either of the extremes (evangelical Christian or rabidly anti-Christian) to really enjoy it, for what its worth. I have a rather eclectic bent on just about everything including religion, so it was an OK flick for me. Not one I'd praise to the rafters, but not one I'd discard outright either. Thanks for reading.

  4. I've never seen either of these, but I remember kids in my music classes singing the songs. They seem fun. I probably wouldn't let my ten-year old watch it, but I might take a gander. :-)

    Thanks for joining the blogathon, Quiggy! Great review, too.

    1. Thanks for reading. (Don't mean to be terse. Just can't figure out how to marshal my thoughts.)


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