Sitting through the new Broadway revival of "Godspell" is like watching an old high school friend getting beat up until he or she is barely recognizable. What was supposed to be fun and folksy has turned labored and excruciatingly painful.
"Godspell," which ran for years Off-Broadway in the 1970s and received a faithful film version, is one of the world's most popular musicals. Although its moral-driven content resembles a children's Bible class (learn to love your enemies!), it can still be enjoyable and even moving.
Unlike "Jesus Christ Superstar," which is a straightforward depiction of Jesus' last days, "Godspell" depicts Jesus as a gleeful youth who shares his parables with some pals. They alternate between acting out his stories as if they were comedy sketches and singing Stephen Schwartz's catchy songs like "Day by Day" and "Prepare Ye."
Staging this production in the round emphasizes the show's informal nature and the presence of audience members, many of whom are invited to participate. Some other cute ideas include starting the show with the cast texting on their cell phones while they sing and having everyone bounce on individual trampolines at one point.
Director Daniel Goldstein, however, tries way too hard to make the show hip and funny, giving it an air of frenetic desperation. The songs have been turned into brash, over-amplified pop-rock anthems, and the dialogue has been updated with countless contemporary references ranging from Steve Jobs, Lindsay Lohan and Donald Trump to Shake Weights and "Wicked."
As a result, the score has lost its easy-listening, feel-good flavor, while the dialogue scenes are difficult to follow and absolutely irritating.
While former "Weeds" actor Hunter Parrish makes for a blond and buff but flavorless Jesus, the supporting cast is marked by highly spirited performers with touching personalities and exceptional pop voices, including Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Nick Blaemire, Telly Leung and Lindsay Mendez.
If you go: "Godspell" plays an open run at the Circle n the Square Theatre. W. 50th St. between Broadway and 8th Ave., 212-239-6200, godspell.com.