Tag Archives: Jenna Russell

Godspell Online in Concert

Godspell Online in Concert



Godspell Online in Concert

Godspell Online in Concert

Online via Hope Mill Theatre

Reviewed – 26th August 2020



“The music speaks for itself, the lyrics speak for everyone, and the singers’ voices speak of the future for our industry. If this concert is anything to go by, it looks bright.”



Fifty years ago, “Godspell” made its Off-Broadway debut as a play with music: a retelling of the Gospel of Matthew set in modern-day New York City. The writer, John-Michael Telebek, was inspired by the lack of drama, conflict and resolution in the conventional religious services he witnessed at the time. Congregations were bored. His aim was to create a religious experience that would be theatrical, and that would ‘move’ people. An entertaining way to approach a serious subject matter. It was to be another year before Stephen Schwartz’s music was introduced into the show and the barriers between music and religion were being torn down. Even so, it is a piece of work that constantly needs updating and revitalising for it to remain relevant or interesting to audiences of today.

This fiftieth anniversary ‘concert’ production, directed by Michael Strassen has completely done away with Telebek’s text, leaving just the magic of Schwartz’s score to spread the message. A necessary ploy for the purposes of this production but one that is truly satisfying and refreshing. It is a far cry from being a ‘live’ experience, but what is communicated to the audience is the joy of the performers and their spell-binding performances. Although filmed and pieced together from the cast’s own homes, the sense of community inherent in the material manages to break through the screen.

The song cycle loosely retells a series of parables from the New Testament that lead up to the crucifixion of Christ. Despite all the undercurrents, it is a driving message of hope for a brighter future, made all the more relevant by cleverly splicing images of our world in lockdown into the final frames of the broadcast. Stephen Schwartz himself provides a poignant introduction to the concert; paraphrasing a couple of the central questions that the musical asks: “will we tear ourselves apart? Or can we come together as a global community?” It is a heartfelt opening with nothing whatsoever mawkish about the sentiment. We are then asked to ‘enjoy the show’.

And enjoy it we certainly do, even if the thought of another online event is starting to irritate that itch to get back to live theatre. The host of leading lights from Musical Theatre, under George Carter’s musical direction, give wonderfully fresh and novel interpretations of the numbers; from Jenny Fitzpatrick’s a Capella opening verses of “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” through to the finale. It does come across at times as an extended music video, but it is a delightful journey as we are steered through the songbook. One of the highlights has to be Ruthie Henshall’s risqué routine during “Turn Back O Man” which puts a whole new spin on performing “within a bubble”. Lucy Williamson and Shekinah McFarlane team together for an entrancing “By My Side”. Darren Day gives a wonderful turn as Jesus in “Alas for You”, evoking an underlying anger at injustice that hasn’t really changed since biblical times. Danyl Johnson’s spirited “Light of the World” oozes optimism, but the true spine-tingling moment comes as a kind of encore, after the finale. During “Beautiful City” Jodie Steele’s crystal voice emerges from a bruised soul, clinging to a hope that she wants to impart on us all. “You can give up bitter and battered, or you can slowly start to build.” “Yes, we can”, the chorus responds.

Irrespective of the intrinsic religious messages, this anniversary concert carries its own message. A message made much clearer by the sheer talent of the voices delivering it. The music speaks for itself, the lyrics speak for everyone, and the singers’ voices speak of the future for our industry. If this concert is anything to go by, it looks bright.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans




Godspell Online in Concert

Online until 29th August via Hope Mill Theatre


Previously reviewed by Jonathan:
Nearly Human | ★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Tell It Slant | ★★★ | Hope Theatre | February 2020
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★½ | The Turbine Theatre | February 2020
Closed Lands | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester | ★★★★★ | Cadogan Hall | March 2020
The Kite Runner | ★★★★ | Richmond Theatre | March 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | March 2020
A Separate Peace | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020
The Understudy | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020
Henry V | ★★★★ | The Maltings | August 2020



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Fun Home – 5 Stars


Fun Home

Young Vic

Reviewed – 30th June 2018


“David Zinn’s design is spectacular, and the breathtaking reveal (I won’t say too much) is the icing on an already many-tiered cake”


Alison is a gay graphic novelist and, now in her 40s, she’s sifting through her memories, reflecting on her childhood growing up in a funeral home (or fun home for short), her coming out, her relationship with her father and his subsequent suicide. Alison never liked wearing dresses and her father never liked the way she drew and maybe they are worlds apart or maybe they are more similar than they ever knew.

Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed graphic novel, an autobiographical tragicomedy, has been adapted for the stage by Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) and what an adaptation it is. ‘Fun Home’ won five Tony’s on Broadway where it premiered in 2015, and it’s very obvious why. This is an overwhelmingly outstanding piece of theatre, an exemplar of queer representation onstage, studded with breathtaking performances.

There isn’t a weak link across the cast. Our three Alison’s, child (Harriet Turnbull alternating with Brooke Haynes), university student (Eleanor Kane), and reflecting forty three year old (Kaisa Hammarlund), meld naturally into each other. Turnbull is bright and honest onstage and the song ‘Ring of Keys’ is a particularly moving and relatable moment. Kane’s Alison is equally fantastic, exploding into her sexuality at university, signing up to organise protests and falling in love with the wonderfully balanced Joan, played faultlessly by Cherrelle Skeete. Hammarlund’s older Alison takes us with her on this journey of remembering, watching over her life and drawing its pieces back together, strong and quietly moving. Zubin Varla is Bruce, Alison’s father, volatile and vibrant and brooding. Jenna Russell as Bruce’s defeated wife, Helen, is worn down, exhausted and deeply moving in her brief moments of openness.

David Zinn’s design is spectacular, and the breathtaking reveal (I won’t say too much) is the icing on an already many-tiered cake.

Witty, playful, tender and moving all at once, the production is skillfully crafted so that these scenes exist alongside each other slipping between humour and gravity with ease and skill. Expect to cry. A lot. This is the best piece of theatre I have seen in sometime, an exemplar of queer theatre and musical theatre, and flawless across the board.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Marc Brenner


Fun Home

Young Vic until 1st September


Previously reviewed at this venue
How to win Against History | ★★★★ | December 2017


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