Nov. 14--In 1971, Stephen Schwartz had a big hit with the "hippie version" of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, "Godspell."
In 2003, the composer-lyricist had another big hit, "Wicked," a musical that tells the story of the Wizard of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West.
David Hogan thinks there's a strong connection -- and not just because both shows tell familiar stories in fresh, unexpected ways.
"Listen to 'Day By Day' in 'Godspell' and 'Defying Gravity' in 'Wicked,'" says Hogan, director of the production of "Godspell," which plays the Peabody Opera House this weekend. A tour of the show's 2011 Broadway revival, it opens the Peabody's 2013-14 theater season. "You can recognize the style, the flavor, the way you can in different shows by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
"When 'Godspell' premiered, it was ahead of its time. Now there are some new arrangements -- for example, 'Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord' begins with cellphones, a very modern sound. The new arrangements are clever. But you still hear those pure Stephen Schwartz melodies."
Here, they are sung by a youthful cast headed by Canadian performer Jake Stern as Jesus.
"He's only 19 years old, but his instincts are great," Hogan says. "Get a ticket so you can say 'I saw him when.' I know 'Godspell' is often performed by high school and community troupes, but it's worth your time to see this cast. It's really uplifting."
Schwartz wrote the music for "Godspell," which was conceived and written by the late John-Michael Tebelak. (Most of the lyrics are traditional, mainly from hymns.) As a composer, lyricist or both, Schwartz has often returned to shows and movies that deal with spiritual themes: "Pippin," "Children of Eden," "Prince of Egypt," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." (Other Schwartz hits include "Working" and "Pocahontas.")
Hogan thinks Schwartz has a special gift for music that reflects "the universal theme in the greatest books: love. It's not Bible-thumping or sectarian. I have loved being a part of it."
He says the strength of "Godspell" is the music.
"I love the celebratory way that it concentrates on the parables," he says. "Even though Jesus is cute, like a pop star, you hear his lessons of love. That is what he taught us."
What "Godspell" --When 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday --Where Peabody Opera House, 1400 Market Street --How much $27-$92 --More info 800-745-3000; Ticketmaster.com
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