A Musical based upon the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak: Originally produced on the New York Stage by Edgar Lansbury/Stuart Duncan/Joseph Beruh
Lighting by Lowell B. Achziger; Costumes by Susan Tzu; Musical Director — Stephen Reinhardt; Production Stage Manager — Nina Faso; Associate Producer — Charles Haid
Music and New Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Cherry Lane Theatre, Off-Broadway - May 17, 1971 (2651 perfs)
Wyndham's Theatre, London January 26 1972 (1128 perfs)
Broadhurst Theatre June 22, 1976 (527 perfs)
SynopsisThis immensely successful rock opera needs little introduction, but when it was first produced on Broadway in 1971 it broke new ground in its stage treatment of the historical Jesus Christ. Based on the Gospel according to St Matthew it deals with the last days of Jesus, and includes dramatized versions of several well-known parables. And yet it is something more - a religious experience, a demonstration of joy, and a celebration of the family of man. The cast are conceived as clowns, improvising scenery and costumes, and using many well-known theatrical devices, pantomime vaudeville and varied musical styles to interpret one of humanity's greatest events.
A group of 10 young people gather in a playground surrounded by a high wire fence. To stress their ordinariness, they are called by the first names of the actors. They carry with them a box filled with clothes. Each of the group puts on a T-shirt bearing the name of a famous prophet or thinker: John the Baptist, Jesus, Socrates, Da Vinci, Gibbon, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre and Buckminster Fuller.
The leader kicks off with a quotation appropriate to his T-shirt, and the others follow in turn with the accumulated enlightenment of the ages. These ideas range from Aquinas' "God is apprehended by the imagination" to Sartre's "Man is a complex of patterns, of processes."
Then John the Baptist steps forward to talk about the coming of the Lord and he effectively silences the gathering by the direct simplicity of his statement. When he has finished, the group take off their T-shirts, shedding the confused tongues of the theorists for John's simple wisdom. They don clown costumes and then they are converted and baptised by John. The leader now assumes the role of Jesus, his T-shirt bearing a large 'S', and he declares the purpose of Christ's mission on Earth is to save the people. The group are ecstatic as they pray to the Lord.
The group now retell various parables from Matthew and Luke. One sparks off a dialogue between Jesus and Judas about the gulf between the rich and poor. This eventually leads on to the parable of the sower and the seed, and a mood of thanksgiving for the simple things. After an enactment of the prodigal son, a celebratory note is sounded, a trestle table is set up on stage, and the audience is invited up for a drink of wine during the interval.
The second act opens with a song urging the gathering to change its ways. One of the players asks Jesus, "By whose authority are you acting like this?" Jesus proceeds to re-enact his last days on Earth.
As Pharisees, some of the group try to trick Jesus by asking him whether Jews must pay taxes to Rome, but he evades them. The next trap is set over the adulterous woman, but Jesus answers that "only the one who is faultless shall throw the first stone." After the woman is released, she asks to be one of Christ's followers.
To try to forget Jesus' approaching fate the company light-heartedly mock the way in which some people are converted. At the Last Supper, Jesus holds up a mirror to show them their worldly appearances. They remove their clown makeup as Jesus bids each of them farewell. He then climbs the fence where he hangs with outstretched arms as in the Crucifixion.Review Quote - "His tunes ... are invigorating." Plays and Players
- Tower of Babble: (Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Da Vinci,Nietsche,Sartre, Buckmaster Fuller)
- Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord: (John the Baptist & Company)
- Save the People: (Jesus)
- Day by Day : (Robin, Girls and Company)
- Learn Your Lessons Well : (Gilmer)
- Bless the Lord : (Joanne and Men)
- All For The Best : (Jesus, Judas & Others)
- All Good Gifts : (Lamar,Company)
- Light Of the World : (Ensemble)
- Learn Your Lessons Well : (Lamar)
- Turn Back, O Man : (Sonia)
- Alas For You : (Jesus)
- By My Side : (Peggy, Gilmer & Company )
- We Beseech Thee : (Jeffrey & Company)
- Day by Day (Reprise) : (Robin & Others)
- On the Willows : (Sung by the band)
- Finale : (Jesus & Company)
- Bows : (Company)
This play was originally conceived for a cast of ten, five male and five female, all with individual personalities, and who provide such chorus backing as is required.
(In Alphabetical Order)
Lamar Alford • Herb Braha • Peggy Gordon • David Haskell • Joanne Jonas • Stephen Nathan • Robin Lamont • Sonia Manzano • Gilmer McCormick • Jeffrey Mylett
The setting consists of a cyclone fence enclosure, 9 feet high, with the band on two rostra upstage of this.
Bass, guitar and drums
BAND: Piano, Electric Organ, Acoustic 6-string Guitar, Electric Guitar
ON STAGE: Electric Bass, Guitar, Drums and Percussion
Recorder ("ALL GOOD GIFTS")
Two Tambourines ("BLESS THE LORD")
Two or Three Acoustic Guitars ("BY MY SIDE")
Vibra-slap ("LIGHT OF THE WORLD")
Various Toy Instruments
Libretto on hire only