We married in 1973, and our honeymoon began in Boston with a 24-hour breather between the frenzy of wedding day and the adventure of wedding trip. Since we both loved plays, Elliot had bought tickets to an upbeat new musical with impressive reviews. So after walking the Freedom Trail and dining at Durgin-Park, we went to the Wilbur Theater for Godspell.
Did I mention ours was a Jewish wedding? A little background: Since my sheltered upbringing provided minimal exposure to other religions, all I knew about Christianity was “Jesus isn’t for Jews.” I had no idea what gospel meant (besides a vague awareness of the music style) and totally missed any similarity to the name “Godspell.” Had I suspected even a remote connection to the New Testament, I’d probably have suggested finding another show.
Somehow I didn’t realize the connection even during the performance. I simply delighted in its lively numbers, the cast’s warm chemistry, and playful interactions with the audience—including refreshments served onstage during intermission. A contagious joy made Godspell a rare, transporting theater experience, and from then on, we considered it our play. I bought the album right after our trip and listened whenever Elliot studied. He was a medical student, so I soon had every song memorized.
But honeymoons can’t last forever, and newlywed magic gave way to the for-better-for-worse hinted at in marriage vows. Fast forward seven years, to the season when life’s realities led to a pediatric ICU and then bereavement. After our son died, a social worker tried introducing me to the faith that sustained her, but since it involved Jesus, I resisted. Eventually, though, I relented and peeked inside her New Testament, expecting to find something foreign and repugnant. Imagine my shock to find lyric after lyric from our play right there in Matthew’s gospel. (Wait a minute—“gospel” sure sounds like … ) Though I wouldn’t say salvation came through Godspell, the show certainly removed a sizable obstacle to my investigating Christ’s claims.
Knowing how entrenched my bias was, I see Godspell’s impact as remarkable. But evidently John-Michael Tebelak, the show’s creator, wouldn’t have been surprised. In The Godspell Experience, author Carol de Giere says he wanted his musical to be “two hours that the audience gets so drenched and embraced by love and joy that they walk out … transformed.” Mission accomplished.
Illustration by Makers Co.