Sunday, June 24, 2012

God speed, Godspell

This blog started in April 2011 with "call me Maxine Bialystok" and the start of my adventure as a Broadway producer, investing $1,000 along with 700 other folks in the revival of Godspell. Today, a chapter closes as Godspell plays its last show - even as I write this - at the Circle in the Square Theatre on 50th Street, just west of Broadway.

For me, and I would venture to say for a goodly number of those 700, this has been a theater experience unlike any other. The opportunity to get so close to the creation and running of a Broadway musical for a relatively small amount of money, the community created by lead producer Ken Davenport and his staff, the sense of intimate involvement, the unique qualities of this show, the visionary ideas on marketing and investment ... not only do I find it hard to be objective about it, but I'm having a tough time even processing the whole thing.

On an important level in terms of an investment, Godspell has been a disappointment. The Broadway run will not repay its investors. I received $50 back from my original investment since the producers did not spend the entire amount raised (and clearly were not from the Max Bialystok school of producing), but it looks like I'm out $950. There has been a national tour announced and I'm not sure if us POGs (we were dubbed People of Godspell) get a piece of that, but this is the situation right now.

Director Danny Goldstein and Solange De Santis at intermission at Godspell

It played 30 previews and 264 performances since opening last November. Reviews were mixed. Some found the show's high-octane style joyful, others frenetic and childish.

Although I loved the cast for the most part, especially the supremely talented Telly Leung (of Glee), Wallace Smith and Uzo Aduba, I thought Miranda Hoffman's ragbag of costumes were a weak point. I like the staging in the round at Circle in the Square's lower level theater and thought the placement under the main theater where Godspell composer Stephen Schwartz's Wicked is running forever, was particularly apt.

However, I think there were a couple of reasons the show wasn't nominated for any Tony awards, a development from which it couldn't recover although Ken managed to get a number from the show on the awards telecast. No question the show was warm and embracing and word of mouth from those who did see it (some 154,000) was extraordinarily good. But it wasn't glamorous like our other Jesus across town, Jesus Christ Superstar.

I also felt it never really answered the question, "why Godspell now?" Ken's answer was "because our society and our politics is more divided than ever," and it's a great answer. Maybe the audiences on tour will find that answer. But Godspell is so familiar from the last four decades of school, church and community performances that it wasn't able to make a compelling case for itself given the intense competition of Broadway. Once people saw it, they were glad they went, but it wasn't at the top of enough theatergoers' lists.

I went to see the show twice, the preview before it opened on Nov. 7 and Hunter Parrish's second-to-last performance as Jesus on April 15. I hadn't intended to go a second time - had a "been there, done that" feeling - but my friend unexpectedly had an extra ticket. Although I was a little reluctant, Godspell worked its unique magic on me - and I was really glad I went (same reaction as the rest of the audiences, right?)! I was particularly interested to see how Hunter had deepened a character interpretation that seemed to me to be a little bland at the beginning.

Here is Hunter singing "Beautiful City" with all his soul:

So, the $64,000 (or $950) question - was it worth it? Well, you could put on one side of the ledger the "free" things I received - a glass of wine at the investors' gathering at Sardi's, a Godspell t-shirt for our Times Square flash mob, a poster with all the investors' names, food and drink at a holiday party and an "appreciation" party - and I suppose it would add up to another $75.

But how do you put a price on intangibles, on the things that the Master Card commercial says are "priceless?" What would it cost me to get a Broadway producer to listen to me and return my e-mails, as Ken does without fail? What would it take to be part of a "flash mob" rehearsing in a Broadway studio, then dancing in Times Square to "Day by Day?" Why are my eyes tearing up right now, thinking of the eager faces and intense conversations among the People of Godspell at our shareholders' meetings and gatherings?

Maybe the next to last word should go to my Toronto theater friends Scott White and Peter Fenton, who sent me a e-mail reading, in part: "A note of thanks for getting theatre onto the boards by being a producer of Godspell ... 90% of Broadway investors never make their money back, but they help put important work on stage that employs actors, directors, choreographers, stage managers, crews, theatre staff and ushers AND brings joy to thousands of people ... the theatre community at large thanks you."

No, I don't have $900 to throw around every day but the at the final reckoning - yes, priceless.

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