|Directed by||David Greene|
|Produced by||Edgar Lansbury|
|Music by||Stephen Schwartz|
|Edited by||Alan Heim|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$1,200,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
Godspell (full title is Godspell: A Musical Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew) is a 1973 musical film. It is a film adaptation of the 1971 Off-Broadway musical Godspell (in turn based on the Gospel of Matthew), created by John-Michael Tebelak with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Directed by David Greene with stars Victor Garber as Jesus and David Haskell as Judas/John the Baptist, the film is set in contemporary New York City. Tebelak is credited as co-writer of the screenplay and served as the creative consultant, although director David Greene said Tebelak did not write the screenplay.
The structure of the musical is, in large part, retained: a series of parables from the Gospel of Matthew, interspersed with musical numbers. Many of the scenes take advantage of well-known sites around an empty, still New York City. John the Baptist gathers a diverse band of youthful disciples to follow and learn from the teachings of Jesus. These disciples then proceed to form a roving acting troupe that enacts Jesus's parables through the streets of New York. They often make references to vaudeville shtick.
Garber, Haskell, Jonas, Lamont, McCormick and Mylett had performed in one, or more, of the original 1970 Carnegie Mellon creation or the earliest commercial productions: 1971 Off-Broadway, 1971 Melbourne, and 1972 Toronto.
The song "Beautiful City" was written for and first included in the film, while the songs "Learn Your Lessons Well" and "We Beseech Thee" were omitted. The melody for "Learn Your Lessons Well" is used briefly in an early scene of the film and again as incidental music, and snippets of both "Learn Your Lessons Well" and "We Beseech Thee" are heard in the scene inside Cherry Lane Theatre when Jesus plays their melodies on the piano during the story of The Prodigal Son.
While the play requires very little stage dressing, the film places emphasis on dramatic location shots in Manhattan. (Except for the opening scenes and the final scene, the city streets and parks are devoid of people other than the cast.) Locations include the following:
Vocally, the chorus is very much in the same style, but solo parts are, at times, more lyrical. Notably, in "All Good Gifts", whereas Lamar Alford had used a dramatic tenor voice, Merrell Jackson uses a lighter voice and falsetto for the high ornament, which creates a joyous effect.
Regarding the band, all four of the musicians from the original stage production and cast album were retained for the film recording. These musicians were Steve Reinhardt on keyboards, Jesse Cutler on acoustic and lead guitar and bass, Richard LaBonte on rhythm guitar and bass, and Ricky Shutter on drums and percussion. Reviewer William Ruhlmann explains that by having a larger budget than had been available for the stage, Schwartz was able to expand the line-up by adding key studio personnel such as lead guitarist Hugh McCracken (on "Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord)"), keyboardist Paul Shaffer, bass player Steve Manes, a horn section, and six strings.
Ruhlmann describes Schwartz as being "better able to realize the score's pop tendencies than he had on the cast album... this was a less complete version of the score, but it was much better performed and produced, making this a rare instance in which the soundtrack album is better than the original cast album.
The film was entered into the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.
Godspell received generally positive reviews in 1973. Allmovie Guide gives the film a three out of five rating. Various bands have covered songs from the film/musical. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 64% based on reviews from 14 critics.
The film was recognized by the American Film Institute in 2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated.