Toronto's Legendary Production of

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Articles from the Toronto Star:
(Eventually these articles will be worked into the rest of the site)


March 3, 1972
Hit rock musical booked for the Alex
by Sid Adilman
Star staff writer

Ed Mirvish has booked Godspell, the hit Broadway rock musical based on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, for six weeks with options that could take it right through the summer at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Slated to open in late May with either an imported cast or one drawn locally, Godspell will be directed by its writer John-Michael Tebelak who did the New York version that has been running for a year. There are also productions in London, Paris, Hamburg, Melbourne, Washington and Boston.

March 14, 1972
Equity auditions for the local version of Godspell, a rock musical opening June 1 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre are being held March 21, with those for non professionals the following day. Call 925-3757. Singer-actors between the ages of 16 and 25 are needed. Rehearsals begin April 26.

March 23, 1972
After four years, Jeff Hyslop has surrendered the Gilbert role in Anne of Green Gables because dancing-only work was offered him in the other two Charlottetown Festival musicals this season. Hyslop wants more acting-singing jobs. This week, he was one of 280 hopefuls auditioning for 12 parts in the rock musical Godspell opening June 1 at the Royal Alexandra theatre. Meanwhile, festival artistic director Alan Lund, who "discovered" Hyslop in Vancouver during a 1968 talent search, is holding immediate auditions for a new Anne co-star. His need is urgent. Anne returns to O'Keefe Centre April 10 for a week.

April 13, 1972
Rock Musician to play Jesus

Victor Garber, a member of the defunct Toronto musical group The Sugar Shoppe, will play Jesus in the Broadway religious rock musical Godspell due at the Royal Alexandra Theatre for previews May 26. Signed also are Jane Eastwood, the girl in Don Shebib's movie Goin' Down The Road, local Hair cast members Avril Marie Chown and Jo Ann Brooks, and Valda Aviks, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Rudy Webb and Gerry Salsberg.

The play immediately before Godspell at the Royal Alex was The Marquise by Noel Coward, direct from London, starring Glynis Johns, Richard Todd and Barry Sinclair. It played from May 8th to May 20th.

May 26, 1972 ... big article

May 27, 1972

One for the Book - Nora McCabe

Overheard at intermission in the bar of the Royal Alexandra Theatre at Thursday night's preview performance of the hit musical Godspell were two members of the clergy enthusing about the show.

Said one reverend gentlemen to the other: "It's a great show-but of course I read the original book a long time ago."

Rev. A. L. Griffith of Deer Park United Church, like most ministers present, liked the musical.

"I've been preaching the gospel for 20 years," he said, "Godspell opens people's minds to the possibility that the gospel contains a message of joy. The message has been there for years but few have discovered it."

Regular performances begin June 1.

May 30 ... Big Schwartz article

June 1 ... negative letter to the editor

June 2 ... negative review (already posted to Reviews section)

June 2 ... Jesus freaks article

June 3 ... positive review from Religious editor, plus Max Putnam article

June 6 ... response to negative letter to editor

June 9 ... ad

"An extravagant musical performed by an exceptionally brilliant cast" George Anthony, Toronto Sun

"All Toronto is in love with Godspell" Pat Murray, CFTO-TV

Started using tag line" Godspell - Ask Anyone Who's Seen It

June 17 ... show that replaced it was subscription show "The Rothschild's" starring Theodore Bikel

June 19 ... Two ministers Praise article

June 21

Toronto talent recruited for films on 'Jesus' musicals
Sid Adilman's Eye on Entertainment

Six local performers have been recruited for Hollywood movie versions of North America's hottest religious rock musicals. Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, both going before cameras this summer.

Superstar director Norman Jewison has signed three city dancers. Jeff Hyslop who was Gilbert for five years in Anne of Green Gables. Leon Granger and Vera Biloshisky. They auditioned privately for Jewison recently in New York, on recommendation of Toronto's Rob Iscove who has been hired to choreograph the movie to be made in Israel. Victor Garber who plays Jesus, isn't the only Royal Alexandra Godspell cast member slated for the screen. Paul Shaffer, the show's 22-year-old musical conductor, heard yesterday that director David Greene doing the film in New York wants him off camera. Is all this just coincidence? Well, remember that Jewison and Greene worked here at CBC-TV for a decade and still have strong sentiments about Toronto.

June 23 ... article about Garber being signed to movie

July 4 ... ovation Jewish letter to editor

July 8 ... letter to editor praising show interpretation

July 8 ... another positive review from religious editor

July 10 ... response to negative letter of 8th

July 11 ... another response

July 12 ...

About Town - Lotta Dempsey

Heavenly Blossoms: When Casey Messinger, who has been chief of group sales for Godspell at the Royal Alexandra Theatre was in Scarborough Centenary Hospital recently, a box of flowers arrived with the card: From Jesus Christ and Cast. The young nurse who opened the box said she had heard many patients send messages to Jesus Christ, but the first time she'd seen one from Him.

July 15 ... mostly negative responses about Baum's positive review

July 21 ... article about old man singing with Godspell cast.

July 29 ... not Godspell, but good article about lack of belief in Canadian arts

July 29 ... good Valda Aviks article, with RECIPES!!!

August 18

Godspell To School: Three hundred primary school teachers holding a summer workshop at Morse St. Public School took the afternoon off recently for a matinee of Godspell at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. They were so impressed they invited actress Valda Aviks and director Howard Sponseller to visit them. The show people stayed an hour answering questions on everything from religion to make up, topping it off by singing Day by Day and By My Side from the how. The teachers gave a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society in the name of the cast as a thank you. Teacher Bob Henderson organized the event.

Aug. 21

Laughter, joy called 'spiritual medicine'

People should be able to laugh at themselves and find joy in religion. Rev. John Furry said at Walmer Rd. Baptist Church yesterday.

"Laughing at ourselves helps us to keep thinks in proper perspective." Furry said. "The problem is sometimes that we take ourselves too seriously and do not take God seriously enough."

Furry said laughter and joy is a spiritual medicine which can save people from the besetting sin of pride.

Jesus was like the clown portrayed in Godspell, the rock musical now playing in Toronto. Furry said, "We betray and misrepresent him when we present him as a killjoy, a wet blanket, a party-pooper, a somber dead beat."

Thurs., Aug. 31 Ad ... last four show (Thur., Fri. Sat. Sun?)

Sept. 11 ... wicked city

Sept. 11

Rock show improves
Urjo Kareda

GODSPELL REVISITED? Godspell, the rock-gospel clown-show version of the life of Jesus Christ, has now moved into the Bayview Playhouse. The production in the smaller theatre is in almost every way an improvement upon the push, manic, cold version which opened at the Royal Alexandra at the end of June.

I still find the material itself utterly resistible, a grasping rip-off of Paul Sill's Story Theatre technique, but the actual performance is much more relaxed and ingratiating in the intimate confines of the Playhouse.

The company still suffers from the frenetic __ style of the production, but a number of performers-Valda Aviks, Andrea Martin and the charming Jayne Eastwood-have managed to emerge individually from the consuming frenzy.

The most significant improvement of all, apart from a lower decibel level, is Don Scardino, who now plays Jesus. A less stylish singer perhaps than Victor Garber his predecessor, Scardino nonetheless had an easy, almost off-hand performing style which safely removes ___ from the pretentious ____ ___ which is Godspell's most oppressive feature.

Sept 16 & 19 --- recasting notice




September 30

Youngsters laugh at Godspell
Family fun by Martha Guran

Godspell is still alive (after it's long run at the Royal Alex) and I do mean alive and leaping at the Playhouse Theatre, 1605 Bayview Ave., south of Eglinton Ave.

And if it doesn't leaving you laughing, crying, tapping, clapping and enjoying every pulsating minute, there's something wrong with your emotions.

Admission is slightly higher than most of the show's I've recommended in the past. But it's worth it. Prices range from $5 to $8.50. However, if you get a few neighbourhood families together, with plenty of children, you'll get a lower group rate. Call 364-0597 for details about show dates.

Children under 8 years of age won't get too much out of it. But the older youngsters (whether they've any knowledge of proverbs or not) will find themselves compelled to read the Bible once they've seen Godspell.

It has that kind of effect. My young companion, Daphne Schofield, knew the story of Noah and the ark. The rest, she said she'd look up.

Daphne laughed throughout the whole show. Yet in the beginning she wondered how she could possibly enjoy a show that portrayed God as a laughing stock.

But she found there were pensive moments too. Moments to think about Jesus and his preachings. And she absorbed the snappy lessons. I counted 28 parables. There were probably more.

Simple ones, like the story of the Good Samaritan, the mustard see, and chastity of mind and body. There's one against anger, for loving your enemies and on miracles.

And even though some parodied and exaggerated modern situations, it was done with effervescent humor.

Jesus is exuberantly played by youthful Don Scardino who really sweats it out and projects the clowny image to the fullest. The rest of the predominately female cast portray the children. They leap about, dancing, singing and miming during the two-hour production.

There's never a lull except during the Last Supper and the agonizing crucifixion. Both are very touching scenes.

It's a production no one should miss and it will run for a few more weeks, so try and take the family.

Tues. October 17

Godspell re-opening next week

The cast of Godspell will be back performing the religious rock musical next Tuesday night at the Playhouse Theatre on Bayview Ave., despite an explosion which damaged the building on Sunday afternoon.

"We've been assured that the debris (thought to have been caused by an explosion in the boiler room) can be cleaned up by then," Marlene Smith, a spokesman for the show said yesterday.

It was originally thought that the theatre would have to be closed for two months.

Oct. 19

The cast of Godspell, sidelined until next Tuesday by an explosion which put the Playhouse Theatre on Bayview Ave. out of action, for a week, will perform at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, St. Clair Ave. W. at Wychwood, Sunday at 11 a.m.

plus ad saying "WE'RE BACK IN BUSINESS"

Oct. 24

David Mann, owner of the Playhouse Theatre on Bayview Ave., though retired from business, has been personally supervising repairs to the building damaged a week ago by an explosion to ensure everything will be ready for the reopening tonight of Godspell. "The Playhouse is still for sale," Mann said yesterday. "But only when Godspell leaves. It's worthwhile and it should be allowed to go on." Mann hasn't had many offers for the site during the year it has been on the block.

Understudy Robin White has succeeded Don Scardino in the lead role, with Victor Garber the original Toronto Jesus, due back in a month after filming of the movie Jesus Christ Superstar is completed in New York ... Meanwhile Hope Garber, Victor's singer-actress-commentator mother is writing a pornographic novel aimed at the U.S. market.

Nov. 24 ... article about Toronto mentions Godspell

Dec. 8

Several members of the local Godspell cast are moonlighting as extras on Columbia's movie The Last Detail or using days off to visit New York for replacement auditions of the Broadway musical Grease. Meanwhile, Martin Short will host CBC-TV's teenage variety series, Right On, which debuts in January.



Jan.20 .. mention of Jayne Eastwood in YPT's Dandy Lion

March 29

New Record

In its ninth month at the Playhouse Theatre on Bayview, Godspell last week set a new house record of $24,000. Godspell, which opened at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, marks its first anniversary in Toronto June 1. But that week, it will lose four key performers, including Gordon Thomson who plays Jesus.

Thomson is set for Stratford's Avon production of A Month in the Country. Also leaving is Andrea Martin. She'll head for the Charlottetown Festival. Replacement auditions are being held in mid-April.

Meanwhile, the movie version has opened in New York to nice notices. Its star, Victor Garber, who originated the lead in Toronto, is now in New York for an off-Broadway revival of Ghosts.

April 7

Movie of Godspell opens here April 12

Viktor Garber, who played the role of Jesus in Godspell, the soft-rock version of St. Matthew's Gospel, when it opened at the Royal Alexandra Theatre a year ago, stars again as the Christ figure in the film version which opens here on April 12.

New York critics have praised the movie, but convey the impression that it fails to measure up to the stage production.

The are unanimous, however in their acclaim of Garber's portrayal of Christ as the gentle, very vulnerable "clown" who reverses this world's values with His wisdom.

The Toronto stage production is still running, but subsequent replacements for Garber have lacked his ability to walk the fine line between joyous comedy and straight slapstick, critics say.

The entire cast, in fact, seems to have overlooked the fact that Jesus as a clown is believable, Jesus as a buffoon is not.

April 7, 1973 ... another recasting notice plus ad with "Now Thru May 6"

April 21 ... article about 2nd City ... says Gilda and Jerry were still in the cast.

April 30

Actor considers two offers

Jeff Hyslop, who quit the role of Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables a season ago, is back from filming Norman Jewison's movie of Jesus Christ Superstar, and he's considering two stage offers. One is to play Jesus in the local Godspell company, and the other is a replacement spot for Broadway's Pippin. Considering his most recent assignment, he's leaning to accepting the former.

May 1

Big Brother's article, stating the cast will perform at Scarborough Junction United Church. (May 6)

June 5

Farewell to 'Jesus'

The stage version of the rock musical Godspell marked its first birthday with a lively circus-style happening in the children's cafeteria of the Ontario Science Centre.

Balloons and a band, hotdogs, hamburgs and the trimmings were arranged by Godspell's "Boss Lady" Marlene Smith, who doubles as the company manager and chief ticket agent.

The cast were all there: Jesus, played by Gordon Thomson, who hurt his knew during the anniversary performance at the Playhouse Theatre; Marty Short; Eugene Levy; Gilda Radner; Mary Ann McDonald; Avril Chown; Gerry Salsberg; Rudy Webb; Patti Elsasser and Valda Aviks.

The anniversary performance was the final one for Thomson, Short, Salsberg and Gilda.

Toronto's original Jesus, Victor Garber, who played Jesus in the movie version of Godspell came, as did the show's musical director Paul Shaffer; its wardrobe mistress Lillian Burgess; Gil MacTague and Gordon Massey, its two-man stage crew and D'Arcy McHayle, its box office agent.

Reluctant to end his stint with the show, Marty Short closed the parry on a now familiar note. Grabbing the band's microphone, Short launched into the Godspell musical score and soon had the rest of the cast-and their assorted relatives and friends-singing along gustily.

July 2

"On the same general subject, have you noticed how quietly and quickly the movie of Godspell left town, and how, despite the competition, the stage version at the Playhouse on Bayview has remained?

July 5 ... mentions Scardino is playing Jesus in off-Broadway in New York

July 27

Godspell heading for close

Godspell, the religious rock musical written by New Yorker John Michael Tebelak, is scheduled to close at the Playhouse Theatre on Bayview Ave. Aug. 12.

Godspell celebrated its first anniversary June 1 and has already surpassed the run of the former record-breaker, Hair, which ran a year and one week.

The all-Canadian cast of 10 features Toronto actors Eugene Levy as Jesus and Jim Betts as Judas. However, the run may be extended two more weeks if ticket sales improve during the summer.

(plus ad with "Last 3 Weeks" on it)

Aug. 6

Godspell closing Sunday breaking Canadian record

The religious rock musical Godspell will be the longest running Canadian production when it closes at the Playhouse on Bayview Ave. Aug. 12 after 488 performances.

It surpasses Oh, Coward which had 470 consecutive performances at the Theatre in the Dell.

Godspell opened last June in the Royal Alexandra Theatre and took a week off in September before moving to the Playhouse. The musical, with an all-Canadian cast, will close because the 500-seat theatre was just half-filled during July.

The third longest-running production was Hair with 432 performances.

Aug. 15

Eugene Levy, Jesus in Toronto's Godspell, joins the local Second City Aug. 21 because one of the troupe's two Americans, Joe O'Flaherty, is returning to the Chicago mother house.

Aug. 16

Scoff at Jesus-slanted rock musicals if you want, but Godspell closed Sunday at the Playhouse Theatre on Bayview after setting a 488-performance Toronto stage record. Opening Sept. 8, 1972, it grossed $784,115 there and an estimated $75,000 during a previous three-month Royal Alexandra run. Godspell beat Oh Coward, the previous record holder, by two performances.

Dec. 12

Letter to editor from Robert F. Mirvish about how they use Canadian actors, calling their Godspell cast "all-Canadian"


Jan 15, 1974

Mention of Victor Garber from Godspell being signed for Jack: A Flash Fantasy

March 13, 1974

Mention of "Godspell graduates" Rudy Webb and Shelly Somers. Also an ad for opening of Second City.

April 17, 1974

Article about Brian James, the house manager of the Royal Alex, collecting tools and getting help from 2nd Citiers who were in Godspell, Radner and Levy.