Following a pattern created by the producers of HAIR, GODSPELL has stunned audiences all over the world as one of America’s favorite rock musicals since 1971. With entertaining and exuberant songs like "Day By Day," "Save the People," and "Light of the World" composed by the award-winning composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Wicked), the musical offers a fun and energetic interpretation of four specific parables from the gospel according to St. Matthew.
The two men who created the popular musical, Stephen Schwartz and John–Michael Tebelak, were schoolmates at Carnegie Mellon University; however, neither knew each other until they worked together on this thriving project. After Schwartz received his B.F.A. from Carnegie Mellon, he moved to New York. Tebelak, two classes behind him, stayed back writing his master’s thesis, which became GODSPELL! In New York, Schwartz won his first major credit writing the title song for BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE. Afterward, he took the opportunity to do GODSPELL.
On a rare snow-covered Easter morning, an awry sunrise service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh inspired creator John-Michael Tebelak to explore St. Matthew’s gospel through music and performance. At the time, Tebelak was a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts degree. His program at Carnegie Mellon University required him to direct a production of a classic or period piece as his thesis. Luckily, he received permission to write his own play for the assignment. Without this liberal policy, GODSPELL may never have graced the stage.
During its run at Carnegie, Ellen Stewart of the Café La Mama in New York City moved the play to her off-off-Broadway theatre for a short two week run. During those two weeks, a producer then offered to take it off-Broadway. Inching closer to its destiny, the remarkable run of five years in small off-Broadway theatres finally was moved to Broadway on June 22, 1976. After a total of 2,600 combined performances on and off-Broadway, GODSPELL ended its run. During its last four years on the New York stage, 25 companies around the world performed the musical, with eight resident companies and three touring companies in the United States and Canada. Featuring multi-racial casts and audiences, GODSPELL broadened casting boundaries while enjoying great success in Capetown and Johannesburg, South Africa. After opening night, world-wide headlines graced newsstands marking the extraordinary event. This would not be the last time GODSPELL stole the headlines.
In December, 1978, Stephen Schwartz sued NBC-TV for plagiarism. The theme song for their popular morning show, “The Today Show," sounded very similar to GODSPELL’s hit number, “Day By Day.” Providing his testimony with a rendering of the song on a shabby, upright piano, Schwartz won the case.
In 1988, Don Scardino, who played Jesus in more than 1000 performances on and off-Broadway, directed the off-Broadway revival, which ran in June through December. Some changes were added to the original show. The prologue featured a group of homeless characters instead of a gang of philosopher-named actors. To modernize the text, they mentioned television evangelists, Club Med, Ronald Reagan and the “Phantom of the Opera.” One glowing review named it “theatrical folk art.”
For his work on GODSPELL, Stephen Schwartz earned a Drama Desk Award, the Variety Critics’ Poll, a Billboard Trendsetter Award and the National Theatre Arts Conference Award. The Boston Record-American named John-Michael Tebelak Theatre Man of the Year. He also received the New York Drama Desk Most Promising Director citation in 1971.