JCS, Godspell, and Bach

I rented the new direct-to-video British version, and while Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice really like it, I did not.

Judas was too shrill and whiny, Pilate overacted, and Jesus was bland and and dull. In addition, the production seemed very anti-Semitic, showing Jews hitting Jesus with bloodstained hands, and putting the Romans in Nazi costumes was historically illiterate (The Romans were more like Americans than anything else, and certainly not butchers like the Nazis). So far, nothing has topped the original 1970 concept album, IMHO.

While JCS is a powerful drama, Godspell portrays the parables from the gospels with a more sincere and emotional outlook, especially during the the Crucifixion. Songs from Godspell, like “By My Side” can make me cry, something JCS has never made me do.

I have always wondered why both musicals end with the Crucifixion, since the story is incomplete without the Resurrection. The Cottonpatch Gospel, a musical by the late Harry Chapin, has one actor playing all the roles with a bluegrass band playing the music, as it tells the Gospel set in Georgia instead of Israel. So Jesus is born in a trailer in Gainesville instead of Bethlehem., gets lynched by the governor of Georgia, and it ends with Jesus rising from the tomb. And the music is outstanding if you like folk and bluegrass. The Cottonpatch Gospel is an extraordinarily powerful musical, and I defy anyone, even a hardened atheist like me, not to weep at the Crucifixion scene.

I also really dig Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. Although modern audiences used to Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys might find it daunting, it is an amazing piece of music.

So what religious music are you listening to this Easter?

Russian Easter Overture - Rimsky-Korsakov

Easter Oratorio - Bach

St. Matthew Passion - Bach

St. John Passion - Bach

Chichester Psalms - Bernstein

Mass - Bernstein

Parsifal - Wagner

Various Gregorian chants

[Can’t find my copy of Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony, though; maybe I’ll go shopping this evening for a new copy.]

I have always felt that JCS is for atheists.

One Jesus does not perform any miracles. Not a one. Peple come to be healed and he says heal yourself. Also as you pointed out he does not raise from the grave.

Two Judas is the main character. The show is about him and his struggle. Does he stop a man he loves because he is heading for political trouble? But more importantly does Judas have free will? ‘You want me to do it! What if I just stayed here and ruined your ambition?’ What if Judas didn’t turn Jesus in? Later with Pilot (who also does not want to hurt Jesus because of a scary dream) Jesus says ‘you have nothing in your hands, everything is fixed and you can’t change it’. This goes against current church dogma about free will. Everyone on stage, and in the world, is a puppet playing out Gods plan for the universe.

Three Hi Opal

Four Listen to the words of the title song. After Judas raises from the dead with some serious hotties he just mocks Jesus while he rocks the house. “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ who are you, what have you sacrificed?” Another basic question of those who question faith. If Jesus knew he was the son of god and knew gods plan was it any sort of sacrifice to die on the cross? He *knew[/i[ there, was a God, and there is a heaven, and that he was going to it. All of these things I must accept on faith but Jesus knew it.

So the reason JCS does not end with the ressurection is because He’s dead Jim.

goboy asked:

“I have always wondered why both musicals end with the Crucifixion, since the story is incomplete without the Resurrection.”

Well, I’ll be at a workshop run by Stephen Schwartz (composer/lyricist for Godspell) early next week, and if I get a chance I’ll ask him about it.

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never heard, or seen, any of the performances goboy listed. I have heard, and sung, a few selections from JCS, but that’s it. The only one ones I’ve heard that screech-owl listed are Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (sung that one) and Kaddish. I love the Chichester Psalms (although it’s not exactly an Easter piece ;)), but the Kaddish is a little cacophonic for my taste. I’ll have to check out the Bach’s St. Matthew’s (and perhaps St. John’s) Passions. Guess I’m off to the CD store this weekend.

goboy, our minister at Wesley Foundation (college campus UMC) occasionally used to read from the Cotton Patch Bible to give us a more modern, closer-to-home perspective on various bible passages. I’d really like to see The Cottonpatch Gospel. That adaptation of JCS sounds horrible; kind of like that God-awful production of Carmen that the AZ Opera put on this season.

Ahhh…mmmm… love Godspell. Let me get my CD so I can be more inspired for this post. mmm…much better.

Yea, Godspell is much more about the actual stories. Its touching and beautiful.

Parts of JSC were written when they guys were in high school, so I tend to forgive the slip ups in theology. Its a show, not really an education of theology. Like Disney.

Though personally, I like singing “Could We Start Again Please?” or “Everything’s Alright” just a little bit more than “All for the Best” or “Day by Day”. But its real close.

Ach, criminey! I thought I typed this into my previous post:

Messiah - Handel

And yes, I know Chichester Psalms is not Easter, but I like it.
(Never was fond of Godspell for some reason. Probably because of all the lousy, over-acted performances I’ve seen.)

. . . and Godspell is always much more personal and human, in my experience. I’ve been involved in two different productions, and seen several more, and the fact that the script is very open to interpretation and relies upon the castmembers’ own contributions (we worked more in a workshop manner than straight rehearsals) makes each production different and its performers more personally connected to it.

And I think they don’t end with the resurrection because that isn’t the story’s ending so much as it’s the beginning of the sequel. Like Bulworth ends without the audience’s knowing if he’s dead or not: that leaves it up to the audience to carry on his work.

(Speaking in terms of literature here; I too am an atheist.)

I kind of liked it. I liked the Judas, Jesus was a wimp most of the time, Simon Zealots was having lots of fun with the role, and I agree: Pilate was terrible! Boy, did he overact. WHY! DID! PILATE! SHRIEK! EVERY! WORD!?

I thought Peter had a great voice and I wish he had more lines.


I hadn’t considered the bloody hands bit, but the Romans in Nazi outfits worked for me. I understand why it’s historically illiterate, but on some basic level, it worked.

I mostly agree with you about the 1970’s cast album being the best. No one has ever topped Murray Head’s Judas, but I found the Japanese cast album to have a wonderful Jesus (Chairman Kaga of Iron Chef fame) who can handle the quiet parts as well as the angry parts. It also features a wonderful Mary.


I was just wondering about that myself. The story just kind of dribbles off. Even if you’re an athiest, you need to deal with the Ressurection, even if it’s dismissed.

I also agree that Godspell is far more personal. I like the original cast album which actually features Schwartz (under a pseudonym) in one of the roles. “Beautiful City” always sends shivers up my spine!


…<blink> I’ve never heard of this musical. I’m going out to a couple of used record stores after work to find a copy. Thanks for the tip, goboy!

Ever heard Bernstein’s MASS? Lyrics by Stephen (Godspell) Schwartz. Very experimental music…very hard to enjoy…but worth the effort.

JCS was the first movie I paid to go see more than once. Bought the music for it, learned to play (some) of it on the piano (back in the days when my hands worked :frowning: ). Was playing the main theme on the dorm lounge piano back in the early 70’s when a woman approached me, and started telling me how “she used to be just like me, going to school and so on, then the Lord came to her and told her what He wanted her to do”, which was (apparently) to travel to college campuses and bother students.

I told her that the Lord had told me to be a lawyer, so I had to go to school. “Heavy” (it was a different time).

Anyhow, saw the British version on PBS. Since I’m so fond of the previous version, it was hard for me to remain objective.

I thought they did a good job of updating the costuming, while keeping with the tone of the piece. Ditto for the change from movie to stage (a very daunting task at times, yes, I understand that it originally was on a stage, but ya know, after seeing Judas being chased by tanks in the desert, the stage can seem sorta … limiting)

This version’s Judas reminded me too much of Phil Collins to be particularly effective - perhaps if I’d closed my eyes instead.

While I preferred the prior version overall, I did appreciate the fact they weren’t content with merely ‘redoing’ the film version, they made real strides towards making the material their own.

RE: stopping before the resurection- I guess, despite the title, I never really saw this piece as being about “Jesus” the character, but rather “Jesus” the phenomenom, both historically and present tense. And, the moralistic struggle with Judas’ character. So, the ending with Judas, in essence commenting from ‘beyond’ worked for me. It wasn’t about the telling of the story of Jesus, it was the telling of the marketing of Jesus, then and now. Or maybe I’m just a cynic.

Godspell ends with the Resurrection, FWIW. That was the musical we did my senior year of HS. I sang “We Beseech Thee”. A bass was Jesus.

He only sang when someone walked in front of him.


Saw the touring version of JCS (with Ted Neeley) back in 93 or 94. FWIW, in this stage version, a wired Neeley was pulled from the cross and “arose” as the curtain closed.

If memory serves, Pilate (or maybe it was Herod) was an Elvis clone in this production. I also have a tendency to believe that most actors playing Pilate shriek in imitation of Barry Dennen’s delivery from the film.


There is an older thread on the JCS topichere. I present it merely because it has some other wonderful comments from other dopers. You may find it worth a peep.

(I still think the '70s version had too much hair and gauze, but, as I stated, I only saw about 5 minutes of it.)

Jesus Christ Superstar: I liked the original album. One thing that I liked was that it asked the questions every teenager asks about Christianity: "Who are you? What have you sacrificed? It probably doesn’t fit anyone’s religious beliefs exactly, and isn’t a good training piece for a religion. But think about it as a tool – it articulates doubts and questions, and if you’re a religious person (especially teaching, especially a youth group) it gives you an opportunity tyo address those issues. Ignorting it or suppressing it is, I think the wrong answer.

I saw JCS on Broadway. It made headlines and the cover of Time, but it was filled with symbolism that didn’t actually symbolize anything! Director Tom O’Horgan originally wanted to have Christ crucified on the handlebars of a Harley! Wany? I guess because he thought it would look cool! He eventually had him crucified on an abstract tree-with-eye shape, which seemed to signify just as little. Jeff Fenholt, who played Jesus in the original Broadway show (I got his autograph on my program) eventually went on to become a born-again speaker (!) A Fundamentalist friend loaned me a tape of him holding forth, and saying how he was high on drugs while doing JCS.

The movie JCS didn’t impress me at all.

I loved Godspell. I first saw the film they made of it. The gimmick there was that it was all filmed in Manhattan (or on the Circle Line in the Hudson), yet you don’t see anyone else except the cast members (except at the beginning or the end). This required a lot of Sunday shooting and setting up angles to exclude anyone else. They even shot one scene in Times Square!Later on I saw the stage production in Boston, and loved it, too. (The free wine they gave out at intermission made up for the lack of Manhattan.) Jesus Christ as Minstrel Show. Very stagey performances of the parables, nicely done. One advantage of the stage show was that they could vamp a bit and throw in a lot of current references.

Other sacred music? I like parts of Handel’s ** Messiah**, although I find a lot of it dull. I have a boxed set of Gregorian Chants, which I find restful (my wife can’t understand why I listen to it, though); if you’re into gregorian, by the way, dig up a copy of Sandra Boynton’s Grunt – it’s a riot!