A rock gospel according to Saint Matthew, David Greene’s Godspell was derived from the successful stage show which debuted off-Broadway in 1971.
Play and screenplay author John Tebelak failed to realise that updating the story of the life of Jesus (Victor Garber), resetting it in New York City, and casting a bunch of hippies as the disciples – half women, half men in one of his many attempts to improve on the original – could only drain the material of its heart, soul and meaning.
He was aided by composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who contributes banal rock melodies and brazenly vulgar inspirational lyrics, packaging them together with a veneer that The Archies might have found too glossy.
David Haskell played a brightly dressed character who was a composite of John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot.
The players use their own names, most likely to avoid the potential embarrassment of the elegantly coifed and attired Haskell’s being called Judas by an asexual clown dressed in a Superman shirt (who we come to know as Jesus by his beatified facial expressions, sad, lonely eyes and impeccable diction).
The Messiah leads the whole hippie gang on a far-flung walking tour of New York City, delivering sermons while his apostle friends have some old-fashioned fun acting out such hilarious material as the return of the prodigal son.
But after playing most of St Matthew for a lark, Tebelak has no scruples about sentimentalising the story’s conclusion.
As Jesus bids farewell to his disciples in preparation for the crucifixion, he walks around them one by one, giving a power handshake here, clasping an arm there, as if he were a camp counsellor bidding the kids goodbye.