"Be careful not to make show of your religion before men," cautions Jesus in Godspell. Amen! But John-Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz's 1971 musical is nothing if not a show of religion, and it's icky on a fundamental level. Written when both men were in their early twenties, the musical was once deemed irreverent for its combination of parables and pop; but it has since become a staple of high-school auditoriums, and its overscaled Broadway revival is more or less indistinguishable from a megachurch youth-ministry service, repackaging the Gospel of Matthew in Bible-thumpy Christian rock and aggressively chipper faux-improv comedy. The humor relies on ethnic self-stereotype and stale pop-culture references ("You're fired!"), and the show's hairpin turns of tone—from corny vaudeville to earnest spiritual instruction—are often ludicrous. "Did I ever tell you I used to read feet?" asks Jesus. "Why'd you quit?" asks a follower. "Their future stunk!" the savior quips, then adds: "No, no, rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. For great is your reward in Heaven."
That such religiose bilge has returned to Broadway is attributable mostly to Schwartz's infectious score, which is well served by the strong voices of Daniel Goldstein's multiculti ensemble cast. Reorchestrated and sound-designed for young, modern ears, this Godspell sounds like a born-again Glee, and several performers have moments to shine (including Uzo Aduba, Telly Leung and the wonderful Lindsay Mendez). Capering through Christopher Gattelli's joyous choreography, on David Korins's continually surprising set, the actors are nothing if not energetic. But for all the copious tributes paid to him, Jesus is a thankless role, and Hunter Parrish is this production's sacrifice to it; with a voice and presence as light as his ultra-blond locks, Parrish preaches softly and wears a creepily forced smile. This is Jesus as Stepford twink, and it's regrettably in keeping with a show that, in its combination of bathos and kitsch, is a model of bad faith.