Jesus, that only took 46 years.
There’s a funny scene in Wet Hot American Summer (I know, there are many, many funny scenes in Wet Hot American Summer, but I’m focusing on just one of them) in which, during a summer camp talent show, a group of youngsters performs the song “Day By Day” from the musical Godspell. You can watch it here:
Yes, that is Bradly Cooper sitting next to Amy Poehler at the piano!
The presentation of the number is true in spirit and costuming to its Seventies/Hippie/Broadway/Guitar Mass source, and the campers in the audience are shown really enjoying it. They clap and sing along joyously, until it’s over. Then they boo the performers off the stage.
This scene encapsulated my complicated, love-hate feelings about Godspell… but this new release helped me sort things out.
In eighth grade, an ambitious and talented classmate of mine, Joe, persuaded the school to let him direct and star in a production of Godspell as a fund-raiser. It was presented in the school’s gymnasium. Because our little school did not have the musical talent to form a pit band, Joe just played the soundtrack over the school’s PA system and had his cast sing loudly over the vocals on the record. I remember the whole thing as very amateurish (because it was) yet I sat in that audience and wished that I had been asked to audition. When I search my memory bank to answer the question of why I was not asked to audition, the only answers I can come up with was that 1) Joe and I had hated each other since third grade, and 2) in junior high, I was a dick.
Maybe Joe could have forgiven me? You know, LIKE JESUS WOULD HAVE?
SHOCK AND AWWWWWW: “All for the Best,” one of the best songs in the movie, is performed atop the almost completed twin towers of the World Trade Center. What was then a triumph of fun and imagination… now becomes a sobering moment of sadness and regret—kind of like my entire Catholic upbringing.
The Jesuits are fond of saying, “Give us a child until he's seven, and we'll show you the man.” So too is it true with Godspell. Though I obviously could use the space in my brain for something more important, I still have the entire show memorized. The. Entire. Show. This was proven the other day when the subject of that song, “All for the Best,” came up in the car, and my wife commented that she had learned it for a choir class in fourth grade. We then sang the entire duet, word for word. I can’t account for why that song is lodged so firmly into our skulls except to say that, as little Catholic children, we imprinted onto Godspell like a couple of orphaned ducklings.
Gambin’s commentary made me see that I had looked at the film all wrong for decades. I had classified the disciples in the film as mere hippies, and both the original Broadway show and film as products of flower-power and psychedelia. Gambin takes pains to explain that the stylization of the piece is actually playing upon the traditions of clowns and street theater, an interpretation that I found revelatory. It made me see the film in a whole new light. I let myself off the hook both for loving it so much as a pre-teen, and for being embarrassed by my love for it as a grown man. These new insights make the film much less of a “guilty” pleasure, and also made me wonder what other older films my youthful pre-conceived notions have kept me from fully embracing.
Titanic. But guess what?
Godspell is better than Titanic. It certainly has better songs.