Godspell originated in 1970 as John-Michael Tebelak’s Master thesis project. He studied Greek and Roman mythology, but completely changed the subject of his research 2 weeks prior to the defence, and nothing but the pure creative flow can explain how Tebelak managed to finish his project on time. The biblical stories formed the basis of his new work. Students of Carnegie Mellon University became both actors of the musical production and the authors of the first versions of the songs. Almost the entire musical score was rewritten afterwards by Stephen Schwartz, who later became one of the most influential Broadway composers as the author of such musicals as Pippin and Wicked. It is no wonder that Godspell has a notable wordplay on ‘gospel’ — music of this genre is a vital component of the show.
It should be noted that during the perky 70s authorities were questioned a lot. At the same time the true spirituality, which could be found in something more sublime than material goods, was important for the hippie subculture. Godspell is exactly about young talented people being engaged in collaborative creativity, searching for something new, and at the same time sincerely arguing about life and living through the all too familiar stories, using songs and parables.
The musical’s atmosphere is energetic and sincere, without too much pathos that could be expected from a show with such a delicate theme, but with a special heartfelt charm. The spirit of the time Godspell holds is similar to other musicals of that era: Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. The feature film by the same name was also shot around that time.
In the 2011 Broadway revival all the hippie outfits were replaced by contemporary hipster clothes, but the overall clown aesthetics did not change. The revival has become another interpretation of the eternal truths, but this time in relation to our modern reality.
In 2014, the Canadian-Russian team of the MESS musical theater adapted the production for the Russian audience, paying homage to the original student project of 1970 by its earnest and energetic drive.
The closing MESS performance of Godspell was held on November 14, 2016.