Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

New look at an old story


The Arcadians

Crescent Theatre


IT is perhaps fitting that in its 40th year The Arcadians should pick a musical which is also celebrating reaching the big four zero landmark.

Godspell, for those who don't know, started life as John-Michael Tebelak's masters' thesis at university in Pittsburg and was a sort of rock musical based on the Gospel according to St Matthew – with a bit of St Luke thrown in for good measure.

The students moved it to New York in an off, off Broadway production where it was spotted by the suits, Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) was brought in to write a new score and the rest is history.

Schwartz, incidentally, was a graduate of the same Carnegie Mellon university theatre department as Tebelak.

It made religion hip, cool, relevant -  although I suspect many youngsters today won't have a clue about either the parables or even the story being told.

Director Anne-Louse McGregor has dispensed with the flower power, hippy, age of Aquarius original and the set the show bang up to date in Birmingham opening with a giant video wall and shots of riots, headlines and the sort of platitudes beloved by our sound bite politicians.

A calmer view of the city emerges with Beautiful City in the second half, a song added from the 1973 film incidentally. 

She has found a strong cast of 10 and normally that would be it but director McGregor has added another 30 souls to the roster on stage and to give them their due, despite being animated scenery for much of the time, they worked hard to look as if they were both interested and even taking part in what was going on - not an easy task by any means.

Jesus (Simon Burgess) knows what the future holds for him as  Peggy and Gilmer (Claire Best and Michelle Burgess) sing the lovely duet, By My Side

It is not a show with much in the way of choral pieces, or indeed a chorus, but Musical Director Lauren Coles, who was also on keyboards in an excellent four-piece band, has done a good job in bringing in the extras whenever she could.

She even spread a few of the solos around including the moving On The Willows which had a trio from the company led by the pleasing voice of David Johns along with Helen Rourke and Michaela Hinton. Helen proved to have a beautiful voice while Michaela, who was also the lead soloist in The Prologue, The Tower of Babble, looked well capable of a more demanding part.

Not that there was anything wrong with the 10 main characters mind, led by Simon Burgess as a cheery, bouncy Jesus trying to teach his rag bag collection of followers to live in communal harmony.

Not quite sure why one leg of his jeans was rolled up though unless he was off to some sort of quirky lodge meeting later, or maybe it's cool, I don't know.

Jesus was complemented by Luke Hopson as John the Baptist who was running a sort of hand car wash come baptism service for passers by with his car sponge before doubled up as Judus and becoming Jesus's best mate – and good luck with that relationship lads.


The other assorted disciples produced some memorable moments with Joanne (Lucy Evans) giving us a cracking version of O Bless The Lord, My Soul, Sonia (Viv Morrison) a memorable blousy Turn Back, O Man while one of the highlights was the duet By My Side from Peggy and Gilmer (Clare Best and Michelle Burgess), one of the better known songs from the show.

The show also produced one hit number, Day by Day, which was well led by Robin (Annabel Smith).

Lamar, (John Morrison) gave us All Good Gifts and some humour along with Herb (Paul Wescott) and  Jeffrey (James Staley). Staley incidentally is trying musical theatre for the first time after performing musical stand-up from London to the Edinburgh Fringe and showed some nice touches.

Inevitably, as this is also the story of Jesus, it all leads up to the crucifixion which is cleverly done with three white cloth banners descending from the flies representing the three crosses at Calvary all leading to the sad On The Willows.

Not that that is the end as Jesus returns to lead his followers in an enthusiastic finale to an entertaining show. To 08-10-11

Roger Clarke

Oldest member of the cast was Peter Sheppard who is 85 and joined The Arcadians in 1973 – the year the film Godspell came out incidentally – and has only missed one production since then – when he acted as prompt after a hip replacement.

Youngest were Amy Clabon and Fiona Mellor who are both eight.


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