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The allure of ‘Godspell’ in these chaotic times |

Arts and Culture

The allure of ‘Godspell’ in these chaotic times

PLATFORMS - Pristine L. De Leon - The Philippine Star
The allure of âGodspellâ in these chaotic times

Godspell by MusicArtes Inc. is set in the slums, with the characters dressed in tattered clothes, further depicting the City of Man in rubbles.

Characters in tattered clothes, role-playing history’s greatest thinkers, throw their theories at each other on a dumpsite. It’s the Tower of Babble, so we’re told, and it isn’t exactly too far from Twitter. In the middle of the commotion brewing among scavenger-philosophers and silenced by one so-called John the Baptist, comes Jesus. No, this isn’t Sunday Mass, but the gospel of Matthew, turned rock musical, turned comedy called Godspell.

After a 1971 debut, Broadway renditions, a movie version and a local run last year, Godspell recently returned to the stage at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza, presented by MusicArtes Inc., and directed by award-winning playwright and director Dr. Anton Juan.

The first act sees a host of parables packed with punch lines, performed with varying musical genres. With musical director Ejay Yatco, the play mixes rap, rock, folk, and hip-hop with lyrics taken from either the Bible or traditional hymns in the 1940s. The second act takes on a more somber tone, as it depicts the betrayal, crucifixion and death of Jesus, followed by another wave of spirited singing.

Reprising his role as Godspell’s gentle Jesus, Gawad Buhay Awardee Jef Flores leads the cast comprised of Myke Salomon playing both Judas and John the Baptist along with Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Caisa Borromeo, Lorenz Martinez, Topper Fabregas, Poppert Bernadas, Abi Sulit, Maronne Cruz, Gab Pangilinan, and Rhenwyn Gabalonzo.

“I have long wanted to redo this musical in more profound connection to the mission of social justice — which is the mission of Christianity,” writes Juan in his director’s note. “I wanted to retell the parables in connection to the issues that the world is facing: wars, terrorism, corruption, greed, human trafficking, and migration.”

The play was originally created as a master’s thesis by playwright John-Michael Tebelak and American theater lyricist and composer of Wicked Stephen Schwartz. In whichever decade or city, Godspell has always launched an underlying ambitious claim: whatever the context, Jesus is relevant in our present lives.





In the ’70s, Godspell’s Jesus took on a flower child guise complete with clown makeup, preaching the hippie creed of love in the thick of the Vietnam War. With Juan’s vision, the characters onstage are garbed more like fashionable scavengers joyously dancing amid heaps of tires, newspaper, and scaffolding — illustrating a ruined City of Man in the belly of a metropolis like Manila.

Known to fuse theater with social engagement, Juan has been recognized for writing plays such as Tuko! Tuko! The Princess of the Lizard Moon that raised recollections of comfort women and murdered sex slaves, as well as directing Madama Butterfly in 2012 which he set against the bombing of Hiroshima. Here, Juan situates the story of the sacred not only in what looks like a poverty-stricken city, but in an era that revels in multi-media miscellany, where scientific facts, news headlines, and theories are constantly thrown like refuse on a dumpsite.

Here, storytelling sees a patchwork of musical genres, accents, and comedic antics. Picture the “Parable of the Master and the Servant” retold by Jesus rapping, and that of the “Prodigal Son,” easily one of Godspell’s funniest moments, re-imagined through a family of Japanese.

The musical revels in variety: Fabregas’ hilarious improv lines, Pictionary played by audience members up on stage, a man selling taho, video projections of Donald Trump and human trafficking, Cruz playing rhythms with an ukulele, Borromeo’s seductive solo, and the entire cast breaking into triumphant song after the crucifixion.

Scenes shift from folk to rock, from sad to exultant in a matter of minutes, so that watching seems like streaming in a web of unending variety — or like watching the world unfold in the current day. 

The Bible’s so-called Absolute Truth penetrates the post-truth age, a time that has supposedly sounded the death knell for believing. Where Jesus has become passé, and the world wades in the pool of its own pluralistic chaos, Godspell treats religion as a subject matter first before it can become, at least in theory, a source of faith.

While Juan draws attention to current issues, more than anything, Godspell wants to be a celebration. In the middle of the cacophony, it doesn’t urge the audience to scavenge for meaning in a messy era that doesn’t seem to have one; rather, it invites them simply to revel in the medley and, in the course of the changing genres, to sway and hum along.

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