Godspell is very much a child of the 1970s, starting life as a University thesis before transferring to New York and a long run Off-Broadway, finally closing in 1977 after more than 2600 performances. There was a Broadway revival in 2011, and this touring UK production was classified as its concert version.
It tells the story of the Jesus in a non-evangelical series of parables from the New Testament, with sketches, dances and songs - the best-known ones being Day By Day and Prepare Ye - to tell the story.
Most of the 10 main actors are on stage for the whole performance to evoke the feeling of community and discipleship. In addition - and in a first for such a touring production – a local choir were also recruited and rehearsed for each venue. Newcastle’s young award-winning mixed choir, Voices of Hope, were the audition winners for the Sage Gateshead gig.
Firstly, the sad news. The tour has been cancelled just five weeks into a 12-week run, with the last performance being on May 9. The show’s producer Russell Scott blamed disappointing ticket sales for its closure.
The good news – the literal meaning of the word gospel – is that this audience was treated to a first-class evening’s entertainment, and to a fine presentation of the story from all of the lead performers, including former X Factor contestant Andy Abraham, The Voice UK finalist Leanne Jarvis, Mitch Miller and Tom Senior. Laura Mansell must also be a shoe-in for the lead role if ever the life story of English actress Joan Sims is brought to the stage.
Each of these musical theatre actors is talented and vibrant, playing with energy, humour and seriousness as the occasions demanded in individual and group set pieces. They showed conviction, confidence and gave some memorably great vocal performances.
It could be argued that the structure of storytelling, song and dance working within a single stage set, was contrived. But it worked, and worked well.
Making a comparison with the 1970s would be unfair – yes, this was an up-to-date version with a music style, chat, brand references and dance routines to fit with 2015, but it stood well on its own. The on-stage electric band, led by producer Russell Scott himself, were right on the button, helped by the excellent acoustic at the venue.
Simon Fidler’s Voices of Hope is very much a classical chamber choir, but now they can add ‘rock choir who dance’ to their CV. The entire cast, choir and audience squeezed every last drop out of an evening of first-rate entertainment.