Godspell Songs Stories
The Making of the Musical Godspell
Stories for "All Good Gifts," "All For the Best," "By My Side," and many others
Godspell Song Stories - book source
NOTE TO READERS: We've included some stories in the text below, but the full details of every Godspell song can only be found in the new book Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked. www.defyinggravitythebook.com
Godspell before the Off-Broadway Show
Notes from Peggy Gordon, published in The Schwartz Scene:
Peggy comments that the Carnegie Mellon version of GODSPELL include songs with lyrics from traditional hymns, such as: "Prepare Ye The Way of The Lord," "Save the People," "Day by Day," "Bless the Lord," "All Good Gifts," "Turn Back 'O Man" (which was a ballad), "On The Willows" and what was then called, seriously, "Oh God, I'm Busted!"
She continues: "When the show moved to La Mama [in Greenwich Village], without John-Michael's friend Dwayne as composer, the improvisatory underscoring was dropped and two new songs were added: mine, "By My Side;" and, Jeffrey Mylett's song, "Creation."
"In truth, the show was an absolutely raw, wildflower without strong structure but plenty of genuine heart and soul -- an exuberant diamond in the rough.
"After La Mama, when Stephen Schwartz was brought in, he provided additional music: "Learn Your Lessons Well," "All For The Best," "Light of the World," "Alas For You," "We Beseech Thee," "Long Live God;" and then, eventually for the film, Beautiful City."….
"'By My Side' was the only song from the La Mama production that was kept in the new show."
"All Good Gifts"
See our "All Good Gifts" page for lyrics and a story
"Learn Your Lessons Well"
Schwartz wrote "Learn Your Lessons Well" after rehearsals began. There was a big stretch of the show without a song. He recalls, "There was just a place where I said, you know John-Michael, we can't go this long." It was based on a feeling. "So much of writing for the theatre is just instinct. It's not always an incredibly conscious decision."
The lyric ideas came out of what was happening in the scene. "The players are enacting the parable of Lazarus. Gilmer says, 'If they don't listen to Moses and the prophets, they ain't going to listen to anybody.' And that was where she had to sing, so it was about -- you should learn your lessons. It was pretty clearly indicated by the foregoing material." (from an interview with Schwartz.)
"All For the Best"
In the original production Stephen Nathan and David Haskell sang "All for the Best," performing a soft shoe dance on a small stage. Several decades later they were asked to recreate it for television. Here you can see them perform it on a large stage. Stephen Nathan and David Haskell perform Godspell's All For The Best (Opens in new browser window)
Irving Berlin and the Musical Models for "All For the Best"
by Carol de Giere - Copyright 2004. Published for The Schwartz Scene issue 14
For GODSPELL the movie, Victor Garbor and David Haskell softshoed through "All For the Best" on a window washer's platform high above Times Square, eight blocks south of the Gershwin Theatre that now houses WICKED.
This zippy number, with bouncy cheer akin to that of WICKED's "Popular" and "Wonderful," sprang into being from the creative inventiveness of Stephen Schwartz. Though original, it harkens back to music of an earlier generation of show music songwriters.
In 1957, when nine-year-old Schwartz was beginning training for his chosen career of musical theatre songwriting, the golden age musicals were thriving. He attended Broadway shows DAMN YANKEES, SOUTH PACIFIC, and MY FAIR LADY, taking their melodies and strong storylines to heart. While he never saw Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam [Amazon.com DVD link] [new browser window] , one of its songs "You're Just in Love" was a hit when he was growing up. In the Berlin song, melodies mesh, as Schwartz explains: "Someone sings, 'I hear music and there's no one there,' then Ethyl Merman sings, 'You don't need analyzing' and then they sing the two things together. I love it." Similarly Berlin's "Old Fashioned Wedding" from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN employs countermelodies.
In 1971, Schwartz decided to pay homage to Irving Berlin when he needed a duet for GODSPELL. His piece was conceived during discussions with GODSPELL's director and conceiver John-Michael Tebelak about infusing a theatrical score into the play before it opened Off-Broadway. Most of the songs from GODSPELL were based on hymns or psalms. Schwartz believed that there was something missing from Act II. "Don't forget, I didn't know any of these stories," Schwartz once explained. "I hadn't been brought up Christian. And so I was not someone coming in with reverence. I was coming in thinking, well if you're going to tell this story, how do you make this story work? How do you actually care about these people if you don't come in already caring about them? Since the central personal relationship was the Jesus/Judas thing, I said, 'John-Michael, if he's going to betray him in the second act, you have to see that they're really good friends in the first act, so they need to do a number together.'He agreed."
With the concept of the two performers and Irving Berlin's counter-melody style in mind, Schwartz invented the playful number. "All for the Best" along with "Learn Your Lessons Well" and the "Prologue" are noteworthy as being completely original in both music and lyrics (i.e. not from Bible text or hymns).
EDITOR'S NOTE: The joy and love that comes through in Godspell's music demonstrates the power of the source material as well as Schwartz's talent. As he has said in another interview: "I come not from a Christian upbringing and therefore I really didn't know the New Testament. I was reading some of these parables for the first time and the hymns that I set with new music for the show are all from the Episcopal Hymnal. I basically was responding to the material fresh, for the first time." His fresh response coupled with his combined musical background in theatre and popular music, gave rise to the joy that is the Godspell score.
[To fill out your GODSPELL collection, please visit the main GODSPELL page ]
The song is featured on every recording of the musical GODSPELL. "All For the Best" on the movie soundtrack CD is not only whackily sung by Victor Garbor and David Haskell, but it features a "tacked piano" accompaniment (creating a player piano sound) by David Letterman's music guy Paul Shaeffer. Of course the original cast album offers performance by Haskell and Stephen Nathan who originated the roles and provide W.C. Fields and other accents to spice up the whimsy. The 2001 Tour CD is arranged and orchestrated by Alex Lacamoire who also contributed keyboard performance and some arrangements to WICKED.
[To fill out your GODSPELL collection, please visit the main GODSPELL page ]
"All for the Best" instroduced a tradition of Schwartz whimsy that continued in "No Time at All" and "Extraordinary" from Pippin, "Style" and "Two's Company" from The Magic Show, "Bread" or "Luckiest Man in the World" from The Baker's Wife, "Moving in with Linda" (music by Schwartz) from Personals and "Crowded Island" from the Reluctant Pilgrim CD, and "Popular" from Wicked.
"We Beseech Thee"
In October 2004, Stephen Schwartz had a chance to perform with Mary Wilson of the Supremes. In prepation for that show he offered the following during a press interview:
"I'm very excited to have a chance to play a song for Mary Wilson to sing, since the Supremes were extremely influential on me as I was developing as a writer. I first heard their "Where Did Our Love Go?" album when I was a freshman in college; my roommate had it , and we pretty well wore it out. I remember becoming so enamored of the Supremes that I made my parents take me to see them perform at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach when we were on vacation there the following winter. The Motown sound became one of the kinds of music that changed my writing from more theatrically oriented music to more pop, and one can hear Motown influences in many of my songs -- an early one that comes immediately to mind is "We Beseech Thee" from GODSPELL, the rhythm of which is clearly influenced by "You Can't Hurry Love". So you can imagine how excited I am to meet Ms. Wilson, let alone to have the privilege of accompanying her."
"Turn Back O Man"
"The words for the song "Turn Back, O Man" were originally written as a cautionary hymn which can still be found in the Episcopal hymnal. One of the original cast members in GODSPELL, Sonia Manzano, who has since gone on to be one of the cast members, writers and producers of "Sesame Street", had a kind of Mae Westian naughty/naive quality to her character, so I thought it would be fun for her to do a Mae West style number. The words to "Turn Back, O Man" seemed perfect for a bit of a send-up, and the director, John-Michael Tebelak, and I decided that it would be a fun way to open the second act, particularly if we could contrast the slightly ribald and innocent fun the rest of the cast was having with the concerns of Jesus, who knows the challenge they face ahead. Thus he sings a more serious third verse of the song, then gets caught up in a little of the fun. But as soon as the song finishes, he quiets the rest of the celebrating cast members immediately and tells them "This is the beginning." And we are into the second act." Stephen Schwartz posted on stephenschwartz.com
"Bless the Lord"
By My Side
Question: I was wondering how and at what point "By My Side" was integrated into the production of Godspell. It's a beautiful song which nicely compliments Mr. Schwartz's famous score, and I find it interesting that an original cast member wrote it-- I just thought there might be a story that goes along with it. Also, I have heard it sung as "By My Side" and also "By Your Side" and even as mix of both. Is there a preference of how it should be sung with regards to the original intent?
Answer: Thanks for the question. My involvement with GODSPELL began when I was asked to see it at the Cafe LaMama (an off-off-Broadway theatre) by the producers, Edgar Lansbury and Joseph Beruh, who hoped to move it to off-Broadway for a commercial run. They wanted me to provide an original score for the show, which I subsequently did. However, at the time I saw it, there were a few songs in the show, written by cast members or interpolated from pop writers of the day. One of those songs was "By My Side." When I began working on the score, I felt that while I could try to write another song for the same moment, this song was beautiful and already existed, so why not retain it? The producers and director agreed, and so "By My Side" remained in the show. So you see, it actually preceded my score. As to the title, it is officially "By My Side", but there are points in the lyric when the words are "By your side" instead, hence the confusion. Hope this answers your questions; thanks for taking the time to write. Sincerely, Stephen Schwartz
"Alas for You"
Adaptation of Matthew 23:13-37
Read about "Beautiful City"
More stories will be added later.
For Godspell's origins - read the John-Michael Tebelak page