My Favourite Musical Songs: #15
15. We Beseech Thee from Godspell (Version included from the 1973 film performed by Jeffrey Mylett and Ensemble)
Not all that long ago I was enjoying some musical chat with a fellow enthusiast. I reflected that Godspell remains one of my favourite scores and she looked at me like I was mental ‘Godspell? Godspell? Really? God it’s awful!’ Don’t worry I didn’t punch her in the face. I turned the other cheek…get it? You don’t? Oh ok, this is, like, a play about Jesus and John the Baptist and that. Sorry I should have explained. Anyways, I stopped to consider her point. She is more musically minded than me in many ways: She can play musical instruments and everything. So I thought to myself…is Godspell any good?
Ages ago there was a TV show where people voted for the top 100 musicals. One of those talking head shows. In the brief section where Godspell was discussed (it made it to number 72) Everyone who spoke about the show slagged it off. One quote I vaguely remember was a man who claimed passionately that if you wanted something to terrify your kids into submission, make them watch Godspell. The attitude being that it was twee and preachy.
To be honest if I really look at it, I can see why people don’t like it. Hell, just watch the video I posted and just look at those goofy hippies larking about: Would you want to hang out with them for an hour and a half? It is one of the shows where I can fully appreciate that it could be more fun for the cast than for the audience if you don’t know what to expect.
The story is based on the gospel of St Matthew and told in a series of parables. Now depending how meta the production goes you can have a group of modern day people acting the roles quite transparently right down to referring to each other by their first names and not character names. Or they can have character names but the characters names are actually the first names of the first ever cast. Or they could each be named after the philosopher they most resemble. John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot are played by the same actor so if you are not paying attention it is a bit…Confusing. Sometimes it is a play within a play that ends in Crucifixion but no resurrection, much to the chagrin of traditionalists. Sometimes Christ is less of a latter day hippie than a Harlequin in the ‘King of Fools’ Commedia Dell’Arte tradition. Basically it is a teenie, tiny bit pretentious. Classic 1970’s off Broadway cult hit.
The only song from the musical that has really become inescapable is Day by Day which I came across before I knew about the show as a result of my VHS of ‘Hey Mr Producer’ I was mostly thrown by the first actor being a man because I was young and was not aware men could do that sort of voice stuff:
What with all the people in coloured shirts, singing a very low energy song you can understand why I was not that keen to seek out and watch Godspell. But this rendition, while well sung, is not representative of the show. But many, it would seem, are not blown away by what can be done with the full length stage version either. In the hands of the wrong director and cast, Godspell can very much come across as strange children’s entertainment. The last version I saw had a lot of double denim and overhead clapping. And the film? It has been a while since I watched it but it is easily best remembered for having Victor Garber as Jesus wearing a superman t shirt. That’s it.
Have I sold you on it yet? I am guessing not. What I am trying to say is it might flat out suck and it is certainly capable of being done poorly. The material doesn’t stand alone: It needs an intelligent cast and well thought out direction. I personally think the music is great (Composer Stephen Schwartz would go on to pen several Disney classics as well as Wicked) but maybe you need to be engaged in the narrative to enjoy it and there just isn’t that much story…except the last few days of Christ but we all know how that ends.
If you compare it to the Lloyd Webber show that was based around a similar idea: he went with a rock opera told mostly from the point of view of Judas that humanised everyone involved. Godspell…pretty much went with bible stories told through a bunch of costume changes and stuff.
Maybe I am not even close to to guessing why people don’t like it because I just don’t know. Part of the reason I am really struggling to properly analyse what works and what doesn’t about this show is personal bias.
Godspell came into my life at a strange time when I really didn’t feel very hopeful about my future and my self esteem was insanely low. And it helped. It is only with hindsight that I can see just how much it helped. It was a turning point in my young life, a light at the end of a very dark tunnel: I listened to and cradled protectively my £9.99 soundtrack from HMV, I sang the songs every single day and I believed. Not that Christ would sort my life out. I believed that if music could make me this happy then maybe one day other things would too. Guess what? I was right.
So I love nearly every song in Godspell and if it was a list of favourite musicals it would easily make the top 5. But ‘We Beseech Thee’ is the stand out that wins a place on my list of individual songs as it is a wonderfully upbeat track that perfectly captures the joy that comes from belonging to a community. And it is not about religion. It’s about love.
OTHER NOTABLE VERSIONS: This version wasn’t used in the final film which annoys me because it was replaced with a rather meh track called ‘Beautiful City.’ So that is why I decided to include it so Jeffrey Mylett could have his moment that he should have had in the film. I assume someone will tell him. So apart from Mylett…Well…John Barrowman also sings this brilliantly. As cheesy as he is, he has a wonderfully pure sound to his voice and I really like his rendition:
I looked up the new Broadway Cast version and was horrified by how much the singer sounds like a 90’s boy band member. It is horribly nasal and I couldn’t get more than 30 seconds in. I include it under notable versions as a good example of the problem with this show…When people want to fuck it up they really fuck it up:
But I wish I could play you the first, second and third performances of this song I ever heard: In my head, it is a three way tie between who was the best Jeffrey. Jonathan, Julian and Kappa were all truly wonderfully and evidence that ‘amateur’ productions do not need to suck. If they don’t know they helped me through a dark time just by being talented, I hope someone tells them.
BEST BIT: As has been previously noted I love a build up, and from 2.51 onwards we get the irrepressible burst of joy, that cannot be contained and it does makes me ever so happy.