November 7, 2011

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

One June evening in 1972, Donna Mundy, MaryJo Lapkowski, Rosalie Binetti and I stood in the sanctuary of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre and sang Day By Day from the musical Godspell as a meditation song at our high school graduation Mass.  As a liturgist, looking back I would say it did not meet all three judgments for appropriate liturgical music as put forth in the document Music in Catholic Worship. But that document only came out in 1972, (maybe even after our rocking performance) and I never knew it existed until I began studying theology over a decade later. It was the seventies, and things were kind of in the experimental stage at Mass back then (and in some places still are). But this is not a commentary on liturgical music.  

In 1971 the off-Broadway play Godspell opened. Now this was a big deal for those of us in Catholic high schools. The music of Godspell along with the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar that came out a year earlier, made what we were learning in theology classes come alive.  While both musicals focused on Jesus and stories from the Gospels, Godspell's focus was more on the parables of Jesus, and it was fun. 

Last night I had the opportunity to see the revival of Godspell that is currently playing at Circle on the Square theatre on Broadway.  It has been forty years since I was first introduced to Stephen Schwart's wonderful musical score and I did everything I could to keep from singing along to the songs that I know so well.  The theatre was perfect for the performance as every seat was an orchestra seat and you truly felt as if the actors were speaking directly to the audience, even engaging them as part of the performance.

Sometimes revivals disappoint, but I have seen productions of Godspell many times and have never been disappointed.  This production was very up to date and seems to include a bit more improvisation and references to current events than I recall from other productions. They even made a comment about Steve Jobs introducing the iPad to the man at the Pearly Gates to make keeping records of good deeds easier. They even included a "rap" number and a line dance. 

The one thing I did miss from this production was the putting on and removal of clown make-up. I also missed the funky barnyard sounds in "We Beseech Thee," but the trampolines made up for it.  I figure I have to be nostalgic about something.  The production however did not disappoint.  It brought be back to high school to that personal loving relationship that I developed with Jesus.  I think Godspell was one of those things that kept me Catholic in the tumultuous seventies as I graduated high school and began college.  

So all can do now is leave you with a bit of what I experienced last night and recommend that, if you are in the New York City area try to catch the show. Remember Advent is coming, and the readings for these weeks are all telling us to get ready and prepare for the Lord's coming.

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