The rest of the cast is as impressive, talented but not showy actors digging deep into their parts. Michael McKean is a sensitive Gloucester; Bill Irwin is, well, Irwinian as the Fool; Seth Gilliam, Carver from The Wire, is fantastic, powerful but slippery, as Gloucester’s treacherous son, Edmund. The only notable deficiency is Arian Moayed as Edgar, Gloucester’s other son, whose accent moves its way around the European continent through the course of the play.
James Macdonald, the director, is best known for his work with intensely political, living playwrights like Caryl Churchill and Christopher Shinn. Here he offers a simple, stark, and non-time-specific staging—some characters use flashlights; other dress in Elizabethan garb—set in a minimally accessorized white box with a dirt floor. (The set design is by Miriam Buether; the costumes by Gabriel Berry.) Likewise, the simple, efficient direction stays out of the way. Mr. Macdonald lets his excellent actors—not stars—shine.
“Why did anyone think this needed to see the light of day?”
Our date for the evening asked this question as we were exiting the Circle in the Square Theatre, where we’d just seen a preview performance of the overly caffeinated first-ever Broadway revival of Godspell, Stephen Schwartz’s cloying and clichéd hip-youth-pastor gloss on Jesus and his disciples and parables, since its initial run in 1976. (John-Michael Tebelak is credited with the conceiving the show and directing its original product.) It opened there Monday night.
The only answer we could come up with was Hair. Presumably lead producer Ken Davenport looked at the recent success the Public Theater had with Diane Paulus’s staging of that 1967 “tribal love-rock musical” and thought: hey, there’s another hippie good-vibes show without much of a plot, with martyrdom at the end, and whose hero has a much better-justified messiah complex—cha-ching.
But verily, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an opportunistic producer to get rich on a bad revival.
Was this ever a good show? We can’t say. (Until last week, we thought it a hole in our musicals fandom that we did not at all know Godspell. Now we think it was good luck.) But director Daniel Goldstein, in his Broadway debut, makes a damning case. Rather, it feels like a desperately ingratiating, entirely soulless kindergarten lesson, Robert Fulgham set to soft rock.
Its hunky star Hunter Parrish, of the Showtime stoner series Weeds, demonstrates a fine if thin teen-crooner voice, but he never stops smiling big, working hard to win you over. Neither does the production, with its frenetic colors and lights and audience participation and theoretically clever references to modern pop culture. Where Ms. Paulus’s Hair invited its audience to revel in the Summer of Love, Mr. Goldstein’s Godspell never stops trying to make you forget its age, peppering the old book with shout-outs to Steve Jobs and iPads, pro wrestling and getting ready to rumble, Facebook and Lindsay Lohan and a lengthy Donald Trump caricature. If there’s any way for this show to succeed, it’s to embrace its 1970s, Carole-and-Paula, spiritual-crunchy goofiness. Instead, this production rejects it.
The only arresting moment—and the only one Mr. Goldstein lets linger—is the final one, when Jesus, on a cross and lit from below, rises to float above the stage. Of course, it’d take more skill than this misbegotten production demonstrates to stage a forgettable crucifixion.
Jon Robin Baitz’s fantastic Other Desert Cities debuted off Broadway at the start of this year, at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater. It was one of the most arresting dramas of a strong season, a gorgeously acted, laugh-out-loud funny, and deeply thoughtful examination of families and politics, and the secrets that can destroy us. Now it has moved to Broadway, where it opened last week at the Booth, and it is every bit as excellent, even with a slightly different cast.
Director Joe Mantello has cast Rachel Griffiths to replace Elizabeth Marvel as Brooke, the grown daughter whose memoir of her family threatens to tear it apart, and Judith Light instead of Linda Lavin for Aunt Silda, the truth-telling Jewish alcoholic in the Waspy family’s guest room. Ms. Griffiths is splendid, and Ms. Light is very good, even if her performance feels a bit like a shticky approximation of what came so naturally to Ms. Lavin. Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach and Thomas Sadoski all return and are fantastic. It is a family reunion not to be missed.