40 years ago, Stephen Schwartz’s rock musical was first seen by the eyes of the public. Now with a triumphant return to Broadway, GODSPELL is sure to touch the lives of a whole new generation who may only know Schwartz for his work with WICKED witches and Disney. So, to honor our composer and friend, we at MTI are going to take a look back at GODSPELL’s wondrous journey.
In 1970 an attendee of Carnegie Mellon University, John Michael Tebelak, penned a play based on the Gospel of Saint Matthew. Under the direction of Carnegie Mellon’s Lawrence Carra, the first production of GODSPELL was performed. Tebelak’s GODSPELL transferred to Downtown New York City’s Cafe La MaMa for a two week run and immediately caught the eyes of producers. Edgar Lansbury (yes, that Lansbury) among others, approached Tebelak about the possibility of an off-Boadway run of the show. Thrilled about the prospect, Tebelak sought after ways of improving the show and per the suggestion of producers hired fellow Carnegie Mellon-er Stephen Schwartz to compose an original score for the piece. With his multi-genre composition abilities and using a blend of his own words and some from the Episcopal Hymnal, Schwartz constructed a vibrant score to match Tebelak’s moving libretto.
Just three months after its two week run at La Mama’s, GODSPELL opened at The Cherry Lane Theatre as a fully realized musical. And three months after the opening at Cherry Lane, GODSPELL transferred to Promenade Theatre, which could accommodate double the audience. Soon after, Stephen and John Michael traveled to London to mount a production at the Roundhouse Theatre, which would later transfer to London’s West End. The cast featured a young David Essex and Jeremy Irons and many other performers of note whose careers had just begun to blossom.
The London cast wasn’t the only to boast soon to be famous actors. Toronto’s production, which opened May of ’72, included Victor Garber, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Gilda Radner, and Andrea Martin with music direction by Paul Shaffer. At the time of the Toronto opening, seven productions in six countries were running. San Francisco was soon to make nine.
GODSPELL continued its steady climb to notoriety in 1973 with the release of the film adaptation. Starring Toronto’s original Jesus, Victor Garbor, the film made GODSPELL and Schwartz alike, a household name.
GODSPELL made its Broadway debut on June 22, 1976 after running for 5 years at the Promenade. Paul Shaffer was hired as music director with John Michaeld Tebelak directing. 527 performances later, GODSPELL closed on Broadway at the Ambassador Theatre after taking the world by storm in only 6 years.
Countless productions of GODSPELL have taken place at the professional, amateur, college, and high school level. Thanks to the efforts of MTI, iTheatrics, and the incomparable Stephen Schwartz, GODSPELL JR was created in early 2000′s. One of the many titles MTI has custom tailored to fit the needs of young people and schools, GODSPELL JR has been performed by thousands of organizations around the world.
Now, nearly 4 decades later, GODSPELL is returning to Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre just as relevant and poignant as it was in the 1970′s. Buzz around the production began circulating over a year ago and has continually grown creating a great amount of excitement throughout the Broadway Community. Very soon after announcing its venue and confirming the rumors, the team behind the production announced a “community-fund” campaign to raise money for the show. Revolutionizing the way a Broadway show is funded, GODSPELL will be the first show to be mounted largely on the money of donations from theatre-goers and fans. Proving the public’s strong desire to see the show back on Broadway.
Sadly, John Michael Tebelak, GODSPELL’s creator and librettist, passed away in 1985. Although unable to see GODSPELL’s return to Broadway, it’s because of his brilliant mind that the show exists.
Under the visionary direction of Daniel Goldstein and with a youthful cast of stage and screen actors, the revival is sure have a fantastic run. All of us at MTI wish every ounce of success and we can’t wait to see it. Congratulations are especially in order for Mr. Stephen Schwartz. We are thrilled to call him a member of our family.
For more information on the Broadway Revival, Click Here!