Revitalizing The Good News


What if Jesus returned to speak words from the Gospel to our modern world?  That is the premise of the musical Godspell.

Godspell Program CoverThe word godspell comes from the Old English and means “good news” — and it is the root of the modern word gospel. When creating their new musical, Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael  Tebelak used this ancient word to bring a sacred musical to Broadway audiences.

Godspell started in 1970 as a Tebelek’s master’s thesis project at Carnegie Mellon University, and made its way through off-Broadway venues. Finally, with a new score created by Schwartz, who was also a Carnegie Mellon graduate, Godspell opened on Broadway on May 17, 1971.

Although the title of Godspell references the Gospel of Matthew, the musical also uses parables found only in the Gospel of Luke, as well as lyrics from the Episcopal Hymnal.

The modern world to which Jesus comes is the American counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s.  The words of the Gospel have worn better than the “modern world” to which the musical addresses them.  Tie-dyed flower children seem dated, and give that feeling to the musical’s  original staging.

Schwartz’s combination of musical styles, including pop and folk rock, gospel, and vaudeville, however, has contributed to the production’s longevity, as evidenced by Godspell’s recent Broad-way revival with an updated libretto and new orchestration. The most popular of Godspell’s songs, “Day by Day,” reached #13 on the Billboard pop singles chart in the summer of 1972, but modern audiences still immediately recognize its simple but eloquent words and tune.

Yet the premise remains compelling.  What if Jesus came speaking words from the Gospel to our world?  What if Jesus came from left field (as Jesus does so often) into our Church world, and as in the staging of our production, came to Trinity Church?  The action is somewhat different.  Jesus does not have to speak so much.  Most of what he says is well known. But are we really hear-ing?  The action goes back and forth.  Jesus speaks the challenge, but then watches to see us pick up the Word.

Will we pick it up?  Will we let the Gospel change us?

Dan Swinson, Pastor

Jennie Schumann, Producer

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