Godspell (film)

1973 film by David Greene

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Greene
Screenplay by
Based onGodspell
by Stephen Schwartz
John-Michael Tebelak
Gospel of Matthew
by Matthew the Apostle
Produced byEdgar Lansbury
CinematographyRichard Heimann
Edited byAlan Heim
Music byStephen Schwartz
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • March 21, 1973 (1973-03-21)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.3 million
Box office$1,200,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[1]

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 (in his film debut) 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.[2][3]


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.

Musical numbers

  1. "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord" - John the Baptist
  2. "Save the People" - Jesus
  3. "Day by Day" - Robin
  4. "Turn Back, O Man" - Joanne
  5. "Bless the Lord" - Lynne
  6. "All for the Best" - Jesus, Judas
  7. "All Good Gifts" - Merrell
  8. "Light of the World" - Jerry, Gilmer, Jeffrey, Robin
  9. "Alas for You" - Jesus (Tebelak voices the Pharisee Monster)
  10. "By My Side" - Katie
  11. "Beautiful City" - Company
  12. "Beautiful City" (Instrumental Reprise)
  13. "On the Willows"
  14. "Finale" - Jesus
  15. "Day by Day" (Reprise) - Company

Differences from the musical

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.[4]

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.”[4]


The film was entered into the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.[5]

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 67% based on reviews from 15 critics.[6]

The film was recognized by the American Film Institute in 2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated.[7]

See also


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
  2. ^ Vincent Canby (March 22, 1973). "Godspell (1973) The Gospel According to 'Godspell' Comes to Screen". The New York Times.
  3. ^ "Tebelak and I are enjoying an ideally smooth working relationship.… But he is not codirecting the film with me. He did not write the screenplay; he participated only minimally in pre-production planning and discussions, and attended very few rehearsals." — Letter by David Greene to Variety, Dec. 6, 1972.
  4. ^ a b Ruhlmann, William. "Overview: 'Godspell: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack'". Allmusic.com. Retrieved April 22, 2015.
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Godspell". festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on August 22, 2011. Retrieved 2009-04-19.
  6. ^ "Godspell (1973)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  7. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 14, 2016.

External links

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