Tag Archives: Shekinah McFarlane

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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Review of Hair – 4 Stars



The Vaults

Reviewed – 11th October 2017



“the fabulously talented cast  exude energy and enthusiasm from the start to the finish”


News of the rock musical Hair coming to London to celebrate its 50th Anniversary was generally received with excited expectation when it was announced earlier this year. Amongst some of the questions posed at the time however were ‘would this show have relevance to 2017?’ and ‘would The Vaults in Waterloo be a great venue?’.

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It seems that the talented group of people from the cast to the creative team have exceeded expectations and delivered a show that looks, sounds and feels terrific with a place and relevance in 2017.

The Vaults has been transformed into a 1960s hippy commune. The walls are covered in tie-dye material and posters from the period. There are prayer ribbons everywhere, a nod to the North / South Korean border which features in the set. The evocative music provides a landscape of sound that really transports the audience into the era. There is a strong scent of incense.

As the audience files in to take their seats, they pass the actors already sitting in a circle of contemplation and we see a remarkably decorated room. For those that know nothing of this musical, the original production, penned by James Rado, opened off-Broadway in 1967. The show came when American society was in a state of flux with the country divided by its protracted involvement in the Vietnam War. It has a background of peace and love whilst addressing key issues such as anti-war activity.

The music has survived the test of time with easily recognisable songs such as Aquarius, Let The Sun Shine In, Ain’t Got No, I Got Life and Good Morning Sunshine forming part of the 41 songs in this production. The show also features Hippie Life for the first time on stage, which was originally written for the film version of the show. The band perfectly drives the music along assisted by a crisp and clear sound mix, though there were a couple of occasions when some of the lyrics were hard to hear.

This production has a fabulously talented cast who exude energy and enthusiasm from the start to the finish. Shekinah McFarlane sets the standards high with the opening song Aquarius and Laura Johnson is a joy to watch and listen to throughout the show. They are joined by a further 12 cast members.

There is a small part in the show when we see Claude’s (Robert Metson) hallucinations following an intake of particularly strong drugs and some of it is quite bizarre. However some aspects of this ‘trip’ are quite sobering and very well acted.

When the show came to the West End in 1968 the opening night was delayed until the abolition of theatre censorship in England under the Theatres Act so that the show could include nudity and profanity. The short nudity scene remains and some of the language used is rather ‘fruity’ though it never seems to offend.

Overall this is a very engaging production from the stables of Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment with sharp direction from Jonathan O’Boyle and outstanding set and costume design from Maeve Black. The audience gave a well deserved standing ovation and responded enthusiastically throughout.

Finally there is a challenge for anyone not to thoroughly enjoy the close of the show – it leaves the audience on a natural high – ironic given the reference to drug intake throughout the entertaining evening. Join the Tribe and let the sun shine in!


Reviewed by Steve Sparrow

Photography by Claire Bilyard




is at The Vaults until 13th January 2018



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