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Bits and Pieces:

Background Information

Victor Garber went to see Godspell in Los Angeles. "I sat there thinking, 'I can do that,'" he recalls. He returned to Toronto where they were holding auditions for the Toronto production. He sang a number from the show, and landed the part of Jesus.

Garber had been part of the singing group "The Sugar Shoppe" (along with Peter Mann, Laurie Hood, Lee Harris) before Godspell.  The group had at least one record, and they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show on July 6, 1969 (they performed "Poor Papa", a1920s song, and "Save The Country".

Godspell was Gilda Radner's professional stage debut.

Avril Chown played Sheila in the 1970 production of HAIR in Toronto. Robin White was also in that cast. It also played at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, opening January 12, 1970.

Martin Short dated Gilda Radner during the run; however, he married Gilda's understudy, Nancy Dolman. Paul Shaffer was the head usher at the couple's wedding.

Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin also "sort of" dated during the run, although what that means is unclear.

Some sources list John Candy as a cast member; however, on the Gilda Radner tribute special, he said that everyone always gets together and starts singing songs from Godspell and he was always left out because he was never in it. (thanks for the info., Kim)

Some sources say Gilda Radner dropped out of university in Michigan and came to Toronto specifically to join the cast of Godspell, other sources say she followed a boyfriend, sculptor Jeff Rubinoff, to Toronto and then auditioned for the show once living there. Her brother Michael is quoted as saying she came to Toronto in 1969 to follow a boyfriend, so that seems to be the most authoritative source on this.

Marlene Smith is listed in some sources as a Canadian theatre producer who helped bring Godspell to Canada.  Her participation was confirmed by contributor Larry Westlake.  Update: On March 19, 2005, an article about theatre in Canada referred to Smith as having been a publicist at the Royal Alex for Godspell.  The same article also stated that Godspell held the longest run record for a musical of 52 weeks until Cats broke it in 1985.

Levy, Short and Thomas all attended McMaster University in the late 60s/early 70s, performing in several theatrical productions there together, along with film director, Ivan Reitman (McMaster is partially the basis for Reitman's film, Animal House). They were all part of a group called the McMaster Film Board.

Major news stories at the time that the show opened were the death of the Duke of Windsor (May 28, 1972), the man who would have been king if he hadn't married Wallis Simpson, and the Vietnam War.  The famous picture of the children screaming, running away from a napalm attack, was taken a week after Godspell opened (June 8, 1972).

Audition Stories

Eugene Levy was on the Late Show with David Letterman on July 29, 2003, talking to Paul about Godspell. They told the story of Eugene's original audition. Eugene auditioned for the role of Jesus, but he was deemed to look "too Jewish." Plus, Eugene was too hairy. The producers felt, with so much hair, he would scare the kids during the matinees. Dave understood, saying, "You don't want the kids to be afraid of Christ."

Eugene told the story again on Late Night with Conan O'Brien on September 8, 2005, and went into a few more details.  Conan was commenting on Eugene's eyebrows and Eugene said he was a hairy guy (but not a furry guy, like Robin Williams).  This made for a problem when they were considering to use him as Jesus, as the producers thought he'd scare children during matinees during the opening scene when Jesus stands onstage in shorts only.  (After Levy described himself as a hairy Jesus, Conan retorted, "Jesus the Bear")  They even talked to him about waxing, but in the end the compromise was for Levy to wear a tank-top at matinees.  They were also concerned with his ethnic look (he said that they normally used "Ronald McDonald" types), and Levy said, "he (Jesus) was probably ethnic looking himself." 

Martin Short said in an interview with Box Office Magazine, "I was ridiculously lucky," when he was chosen out of 800 people to be in Godspell.

In October 2004, straight.com asked Short was asked what it was that made him go out for Godspell: "That certainly is going back. Only 32 years. What prompted me? Well, I was going to McMaster University. I started off in premed and switched to social work. Along the way--the four-year experience at university--I realized that I loved doing stage and theatre and wanted to be an actor. Wanted to try it, anyway. I gave myself a year and that was it. Godspell was an audition; it was the big audition. That was the one that everyone wanted."  The article also rhetorically asked what brought such talent together, and referred to this website to help explain it.


The Original Cast of Toronto's Godspell

Eugene Levy was on Studio Two on TVOntario talked about dragging "Marty" out of finals exams at McMaster to audition for Godspell.

In August 2005, Eugene Levy was interviewed by backstage.com: Another one of his early gigs was the Toronto production of the musical Godspell, which he recalls with much fondness. The show featured future comedy cohorts Martin Short, Dave Thomas, and Andrea Martin. "Oh, my God, 1,000 people came out to audition for that show for 10 roles in the production," he says. "They told us, 'When you sign on for this thing, we want you to sign on for 12 months.' Well, we were just doing backflips. Twelve months! That's a check every week for 12 months."

In an interview Paul reminisced about his early days in Toronto, "For 20 bucks, if you were going to audition for a show, you could come over to my apartment and we would rehearse together, and I would accompany you at your audition." His accompaniment of two friends for an audition for "Godspell," a '70s rock musical composed by Steven Schwartz, got him his ticket to Broadway. "Steven was casting for the show in Toronto and heard me play these auditions with my friends," says Shaffer. "He hired me on the spot that day to conduct the show and play the piano for it in Toronto. That was truly my big break."

Eugene Levy described Gilda Radner's audition in the following way: "The first image of Gilda was at the final audition for "Godspell." We were all there. They'd narrowed it down to about 80 people. I just remember this girl getting up on stage and singing "Zippity Do Dah" as her song. I remember thinking, "Oh, this poor girl. She's so cute, but what a terrible song!" [laughs] And the entire room by the end of the song just fell in love with her, she was so adorable. We always referred to her as the "Zippity Do Dah" girl in the beginning. She was charming and sweet and loved to laugh. She went out with Marty Short for most of the run, and Marty was my roommate, so we were all hanging out. I just remember her always being up and loving to laugh." Venice Magazine

About Gilda's audition, Martin Short is quoted as saying, "Gilda came dressed in these goofy clothes, with her hair in pigtails. She sang off-key. We felt so sorry for her. What we didn't know was that she'd seen the New York version of the play and knew exactly what the producers were looking for." Canoe

Another source described her audition this way, "At the audition, she walked onto the stage in a crazy little costume and sang Zippity Do Dah so enthusiastically and funny that she got the part."

About her time in Toronto, Gilda's brother Michael said, ""The most exciting thing she did there was to audition for 'Godspell'. As far as I know, she never had to audition for anything again."


Jami Gertz playing Gilda Radner in the TV biopic
It's Always Something, recreating Gilda's audition.

Eugene Levy was quoted as saying about his time during Godspell, "That was the first legit job any of us had, and yeah, it was an amazing company. We signed for a year, got a check every single week. It was pretty amazing stuff, making about $145 a week. So that was our big foray into show business. We were just hanging out, living the life of Riley, partying. We were young!" Venice Magazine

In an article about Rudy Webb, he said, "We were all pretty equal. It was a high profile cast. They were all just starting out. They were regular people trying to get a job. We all became close." YorkRegion.web

About the audition, Martin Short is quoted as saying, "Eugene was a struggling actor and he knew I was a closet thespian, so he urged me to audition with him. I was 22. I had very limited stage experience, so I never dreamed I had a chance. About 1,000 people auditioned for 10 roles." Canoe

Andrea Levy was not initially cast in the production, but Jo Ann Brooks contracted Chicken Pox, so she was called in.  Recently I was contacted by an antiques dealer in Toronto who had obtained a silver tray at a local Value Village (thrift store) that was presented to Andrea on June 1st (the opening day), with her name and the date on it, and it's presumed it was made as a gift for her for her extra work (unless all other cast members also received such an item).  The item was sold before I was able to contact the dealer.  If the purchaser is reading this, I'd love to be contacted to either buy it, or at least get a photo of it.

During The Run

Martin Short and Eugene Levy rented a house together in Toronto and hosted frequent parties for their struggling entertainer friends, including cast mates, as well as such future stars as Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Bill Murray and John Belushi.

Dave Thomas's book, SCTV: Behind the Scenes, identifies the house and its address: "The house at 1063 Avenue Road in Toronto had a long association with Second City and SCTV. Although the house had changed hands a couple of times, somebody or other connected with the show lived there from 1972 until 1980. Martin Short and Eugene Levy were the first to move in and they lived there from 1972 until 1974. Then Sheldon Patinkin (author of The Second City: Backstage at the World's Greatest Comedy Theater) rented the house. Sheldon was a director of the Second City stage company and a producer of SCTV. He lived there for a year in 1975. John and Rose Candy lived there from 1976 to 1980. There were parties attended by people like Paul Shaffer, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Victor Garber, Joe Flaherty, Catherine O'Hara, the Murray brothers (Bill and Brian), and John Belushi. Hundreds of pages of comedy have been written there. Eugene, Marty Short, Paul Shaffer, and I (Thomas) had most of our infamous Friday Night Services at 1063 Avenue Road. That little house has a real place in the history of comedy. In fact, Toronto in the mid-1970s was a remarkable place if you were at all interested in comedy."

Paul Shaffer remembered the Friday Night Services, saying ''Our Siddur (Jewish prayer book) was PEOPLE magazine,'' says Shaffer, relaxing in a Manhattan bistro, remembering the riff-happy gatherings that largely parodied that business of show. (Note: People Magazine premiered on March 4, 1974.)\

In an online chat with Martin Short with E! Online, Martin Short was asked if the Friday Night Services was when they developed sketches. Short replied, "No, you misunderstood. We went to "services" together. The Jewish faith helped me become a better Catholic."

In a recently released SCTV DVD, Catherine O'Hara is interviewed with Martin Short and she talks about being young and going to see Godspell when she was a teenager, and she said that she use to kiss Martin's picture in the program before she went to bed at night.  Video of this behind the scene's interview is coming soon (thanks Scott!!!).


Dave Thomas (Herb) and Eugene Levy (Jesus)

Dave Thomas joined the show near the end of its run. It closed three months after he joined it, and Thomas became a copywriter for McCann/Erickson for a couple years before returning to join the Second City cast.

Dave Thomas commented on his part in Godspell in the article "Two Nerd From Canada Why SCTV's Bob And Doug McKenzie Are The Funniest Guys On Television" (Rolling Stone Iss. 362 February 4, 1982 By Christopher Connelly): "You know the two prodigal sons? I was one of them. The fat one."

After Godspell

In an article she wrote in 1978, Live From Adolescence I Always Hated Saturday Night, Gilda Radner wrote, "I've worked Saturday nights now for the past six years. I consider myself in service to the public . . . . the Entertainment Corps. Saturday has always been the heaviest performing night of the workweek. In the Toronto company of Godspell, Saturday meant two back to back performances of endurance hugging, jumping, and climbing the fence for Jesus."

Garber was seen on the show's opening night by David Greene, who was preparing to direct the musical's 1973 movie version, and selected to reprise the role on the screen. "I read in the paper: 'Yes, I think we've found a Jesus.' And it was me! It's absolutely true. I don't think I even had an agent." He was succeeded in the show by Don Scardino, with whom he'd appear periodically in cabaret, during the next several years. "A friend used to call us 'The Jesus Boys,' " laughs Garber. Between engagements, he understudied, and occasionally performed, in the Broadway company of Godspell. "One time, I stopped by to visit some people and I was on. The frightening thing was that I remembered everything."

In an article about Martin Short getting a start on Canada's Walk of Fame, Paul Shaffer said about Godspell: "That was a significant time for all of us. It was the first professional job for most of us and we partied together excessively." Though the friendships remain intact, Shaffer adds that the excessive partying days are over. "We've all got kids now, you know."

Paul Shaffer recalled in the book "Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests" (pg. 32) "Howard Shore called me to be in his new band for Saturday Night Live. Howard had worked for me in a theatrical show in Toronto on saxophone. I was conducting Godspell, the Toronto company. We had a wonderfully talented cast. Gilda was in the cast. Also Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy, Marty Short, and Dave Thomas, among others. There were the funniest people I'd ever come in contact with.

Paul Schaffer, hosting Late Night with David Letterman on Wednesday, January 19, 2005, was talking to Harvey Fierstein about his Fiddler on the Roof co-star Andrea Martin, and Paul, to describe the type of girl she was told the story that We were all 22 just finished a benefit of Godspell, they were walking down the streets of Toronto. and she lifted up the front of her top and said, "You've all seen these, right? You seen these then?". He also attributed Andrea as teaching comedy to Gilda Radner, Marty Short and Eugene Levy.

Cast member Mary Ann McDonald starred recently  in CanStage's version of Urinetown. I saw it on May 28, 2004 and it was excellent!

On July 22, 1986 Gilda Radner appeared on Late Night with David Letterman to promote her movie Haunted Honeymoon. On that show she sang the first verse of "Learn Your Lessons Well" with Paul playing the accompaniment from memory. Dave and the crowd loved it. Click to hear Gilda sing from Godspell

The surviving cast members, along with members of the SCTV cast, came together in 1993 to film a special for a CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) called Friends of Gilda.

In a recent email from her mother Sally, I found out that Randi Sanfield is now Randi Sloan, living in Manhattan and for quite a few years has been head of the high school dance program for Dalton School.  After Godspell, Randi returned to Michigan and received a Bachelor Degree in Theater from Wayne State University. She then taught dance in Massachusetts and finally moved to New York.

In the Radner biopic, It's Always Something, there are several references to Godspell, including: Gilda's audition scene, a short flashback scene of the Godspell cast performing, Lorne Michael's showing Gilda his program from Godspell and telling her if she could do that she could do Saturday Night Live (the program was fairly accurate, with proper names of the cast although it left out Andrea Martin; the cover used was slightly inaccurate, as it did not include the "Scene" title on the top of the cover), and a large Godspell poster framed in Gilda's New York apartment during her time on SNL.


Jami Gertz, dressed as Radner in Godspell, from the biopic, It's Always Something
 



This page last updated:
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
© 2004-2012, Brian Gedcke


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