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Godspell is an interesting musical. Composed by Stephen Schwartz, one of the giants of modern musical theatre, the musical essentially tells the parables of the Bible back to back. Yet unlike other musicals with similar themes, such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Schwartz’s own Children of Eden, the musical does not have as coherent a plot, instead resembling something more akin to a song cycle, meaning that Schwartz’s catchy songs are given more prominence than usual. To effectively navigate this challenge, a stellar cast is necessary, which Richard Carroll and his team at the Hayes have very effectively delivered.
Carroll brought a number of cast members over from his recent foray at the Eternity Playhouse, the critically acclaimed Once. This was a great move given the strength of that cast. But combined with some new members, Carroll, who along with musical director Victoria Falconer has just been appointed a co-artistic director, still had to ensure that the cast gelled in the same way. Like in Once, the strength of this show really came from its ensemble with all the cast members blending together nicely to give a very unified performance. One thing that Carroll does particularly well in his musicals is giving voice to instruments on stage, with the characters often playing multiple instruments, which gives an intimate feel to the musical. Carroll is also a master of utilising small spaces which is necessary in the Hayes, which seats just over 100 patrons, as his cast are always moving and it seems as though there is always something new going on with the set.
One interesting feature of the Hayes is that there isn’t an easy exit for the performers side-stage so they need to go back through the audience. While this can pose a challenge for performers, the advantage is that performers can be situated all around the theatre which creates a wall of sound which builds atmosphere nicely. With all the performers having very strong vocals, this was undoubtedly a highlight of the show.
On the vocals, they were truly outstanding. There was not one weak link in the vocal ensemble, led by Victoria Falconer, meaning that every number was tight and polished. While Stefanie Caccamo had a smaller role than her incredible performance in Once, she still stood out with impeccable singing. I really do think she is one of the greatest musical theatre vocalists in Australia, considering her poise, tone and the finesse with which she approaches her singing.
Falconer was also a standout on the stage, often playing the piano from incredible positions while singing. Billie Palin also showcased a phenomenal voice in her role as Jesus Christ. But it was hard to pick any further standouts that the strength of the show came from the interaction of the ensemble, acting in pretty much perfect synergy throughout. And can I say the costumes were incredible throughout the whole show, paying homage to the 70s context of the show and also to the original scripture on which the musical is based on.
The performance of this musical was thoroughly impressive. However, the show does suffer from being a little dated. However, I thought that the cast and Carroll did a great job to modernise the show, throwing in pop culture references at various points throughout the show. While I’m not completely convinced in the enduring power of the source material, it certainly allows top vocalists to shine and that was definitely the case here. Ultimately, I think that the cast did a fantastic job of modernising the show for a 2022 audience and making it exciting for the audience at the Hayes who loved every moment of it. This was a fabulous production which allowed its leads and ensemble to soar and for that, I think it is well worth a visit.
Godspell plays at the Hayes Theatre until 6 November. Tickets are available here.