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April 11 - 17, 2001

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God's Greatest Hits

A not-necessarily-reverent look at religion on stage.

Selection Source Performer(s) Comments
Day by Day Godspell (Revival Cast, 2000) Catherine Carpenter and Company Lively opening number for this ensemble musical based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew. The show ran over 2,000 performances off-Broadway before it moved to the Broadhurst for another 527. The score is by Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote Pippin (1972). This is from a 2000 revival production in which Schwartz was actively involved, rewriting both the book and music.
This set illustrates the two faces of Christianity: the stern, punishing, sin-oriented version vs. the loving, forgiving and grace-oriented one.
Stars Les Miserables (OC 1987) Terrence Mann The jailer Javert represents the stern God. He’s inflexible, fixated on sin, and sees himself doing God’s duty by punishing the wicked.
Bring Him Home Les Miserables (OC 1987) Colm Wilkinson Jean Valjean shows the forgiveness of God. He’s compassionate, unselfish, and understanding. He’s convinced God gave him a second chance to help others
Judaism and the Old Testament in this next set.
Sabbath Prayer Fiddler on the Roof (London Cast, 1967) Topol, Miriam Karlin, Company Unknown to the producers, Chaim Topol had already played Tevye in Tel Aviv when he was asked to audition for the London company.
We Haven’t Missed a Sabbath Yet Fiddler on the Roof (London Cast, 1967) Jerry Bock (piano and vocal), Sheldon Harnick (vocal) From the original demo recording session, as Bock and Harnick were still developing the show. This was originally intended as the opening number. You can hear the “seed” that eventually developed into “Tradition” about 90 seconds into it.
The Begat Finian’s Rainbow (OC 1947) Lorenzo Fuller, Jerry Laws, Louis Sharp A racist Southern senator, changed into a black man by a transplanted leprechaun, joins a gospel group for a song. We’re not making this up, you know.
When It Dries Two by Two (OC 1970) Danny Kaye, Company God gets in a snit and kills everybody except Noah (Danny Kaye) and his somewhat dysfunctional family in this musical adaptation of Clifford Odets' The Flowering Peach. Music by Richard Rogers (one of his last works, and not a hit), lyrics by Martin Charnin (who would later score big with composer Charles Strouse in Annie, 1977)
Hymns and pseudo-hymns.
The Highest Judge of All Carousel (OC 1945) John Raitt Another notion of God the Judge, from the point of view rough-hewn carnival barker Billy Bigelow, preparing to meet his maker after being killed trying to steal money for his unborn daughter.
You'll Never Walk Alone Carousel (Revival cast 1994) Meg Johnson Nettie sings the famous hymn-like song to comfort Julie after Billy's death.
Climb Every Mountain The Sound of Music (OC 1959) Patricia Neway Another inspirational pseudo-hymn by Rogers and Hammerstein
Come to Jesus Way Back to Paradise (1998) Audra McDonald, Adam Guettel, orchestra conducted by Eric Stern Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, from Saturn Returns (1996). Guettel first sang this with McDonald in a workshop production of that show. This rings some interesting changes on a hymn-like tune.
Some revival-style numbers from old and new Broadway.
O Heavenly Salvation September Songs (1997) The Persuasions Originally from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, by Kurt Weill. Taken out of context and given a soulful performance, it almost sounds like a genuine hymn.
Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat Guys and Dolls (OC 1950) Stubby Kaye, Company Nicely-Nicely Johnson is overcome by religious fervor at a revival meeting that he and his fellow Runyonlanders are obliged to attend because they lost a bet to Sky Masterson.
Finally, our old friend Tom Lehrer.
The Vatican Rag The Remains of Tom Lehrer (2000) Tom Lehrer Inspired by attempts by a Vatican Council in the early 1960s to make church music more accessible. “Bow your knees with great respect / And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect”

Acronyms and other mysteries defined:

OC: Unless otherwise indicated, the Original Cast recording of a Broadway show, along with the date.

OS: Unless otherwise indicated, the Original Soundtrack recording of a film, TV show, etc.

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