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Godspell Recordings

Interviews with Collectors - by Carol de Giere

Copyright 2001 by Carol de Giere

TOM PETERS INTERVIEW - All Good Gifts of Godspell Collecting

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As a Godspell recordings collector, Tom Peters may be in a class of his own. With 24 albums in his collection, he is likely to be one of the few individuals with virtually everything that's been recorded for the show. (When Stephen Schwartz saw the montage, he realized Tom's collection is larger than his own.) Even so, Tom hasn't given up searching. He's still looking for those last few to complete his set.

An Ohio schoolteacher, Tom started collecting foreign show music cast recordings when he was 15 years old. A friend of his was singing in a choir that was traveling through Europe. In France she bought a copy of the Paris Godspell as a gift for Tom. Although his collection is varied, he says, "Godspell happens to be my guilty pleasure."

Although he still wants to find cast recordings from Sweden, The Netherlands, Nairobi, and the two South African productions, his collection now includes:

Original 1971 cast USA
Original '71 London with David Essex
1971 Melbourne, Australia Cast
1972 Sydney, Australia Cast
1972 Paris Cast
1972 Hamburg Germany
1973 Motion Picture Soundtrack
1992 Sydney Cast
1993 London Studio Cast w/Darren Day
1994 UK Tour Cast
1998 Sydney Cast
2000 Aborted Aussie Tour single(Day by Day)
2000 revival cast
2001 tour cast
Godspell Silver Anniversary Documentary
Last Galaxie Studio Cast
Pickwick Studio cast #1
Pickwick Studio cast #2
MFP Studio cast Sagapan Studio Cast
C.C. Productions Studio Cast
42nd Street Singers (same as C.C.)
Godspell Karaoke
(And a few unofficial local recordings)

Godspell and Stephen Schwartz's other works have played a pivotal role in Tom's life and career. As a teenager growing up in the '70's, Pippin held great meaning for Tom. "Pippin's search echoed my own life in many ways." Tom considered "Corner of the Sky" to be his private anthem. Reflecting about that period in his life, Tom concludes, "There were four works that helped to shape me in the 1970's. They were Godspell, Mass, Pippin and Jesus Christ Superstar. Stephen helped write three out of the four."

Tom credits Stephen Schwartz and Godspell for inspiring his life-long interested in the theatre. "After seeing Godspell I knew that I wanted to be involved with the theatre for the rest of my life. I am the first person in my entire family ever to go to college and it was Godspell that gave me the inspiration and desire. I was so impressed that the show was created as a college project and that all the cast and writers were fresh out of Carnegie Tech (the earlier name for Carnegie Mellon University). I went to college on an acting scholarship and eventually I received a BFA and an MA in Theatre as well as a BSEd in Speech and Theatre."

Tom singing in role of Jesus in Godspell

Since then, Tom has been working with theatre for young people. "I have traveled around the world to study theatre and it is all because an aunt of mine took me to a Wednesday matinee of Godspell."

(The photo shows Tom Peters at age 19, enjoys singing while playing while playing the role of Jesus in Godspell.)


Carol de Giere: Do you remember a particular moment when you decided to collect all the Godspell recordings you could find or did the interest come gradually?

Tom Peters: I bought the original cast recording back in 1971 after reading an interview with John-Michael Tebelak, Godspell's playwright, where he talked about his "Christ the Clown" concept. I remember him saying he knew the show would be a hit the morning after it opened because he wasn't stricken with leprosy. I liked his "cheeky" humor and decided to check out the record. I liked the music, but I couldn't fashion a show in my head from the record. With most cast albums you can pretty well imagine a show from hearing the score. Godspell was unlike Superstar at the time because you could listen to Superstar and know what was going on in the story. Godspell intrigued me. When I finally saw the play I was blown away. I know it sounds corny, but seeing that play was a life changing moment for me.

I then bought the Movie Soundtrack in the spring of '73, just before the movie was released. I found the soundtrack to be a little over produced for my rock and roll ears, but I still think it contains the definitive versions of "All Good Gifts", "Bless the Lord" and "By My Side". In 1974, David Essex had a hit with "Rock On" and on a TV show interview he talked about his performance in the London Godspell. That is when I first realized that there were international recordings of Godspell. When a friend gave me the Paris cast record, I knew I had to track down all the international recordings.

de Giere: Are you chiefly fascinated by the differences in the interpretations of songs or by the stars involved?

Peters: It is a little of both. I originally wanted the London cast so I could hear pop star David Essex as Jesus. It is fun to go back and listen to Jeremy Irons as John/Judas before he became famous as an actor. In 1996 I bought the German cast partially because I was curious how disco diva Donna Summers would sound doing "Bless the Lord." In general, I buy the different recordings to hear the different interpretations.

It is actually the various Godspell bands that I really enjoy comparing. Each cast album, even though they are playing the same song as a slightly different feel. The London cast is "loose". To me it sounds like a garage band playing the score. There are some nice blues style guitar fills in "Bless the Lord". The Paris cast is the opposite. The band is "tight". They are very musical and play the score with energy and precision. The interplay between the band on the "Finale", "Prepare Ye" and the "Light of the World" fade out is a joy to listen to. I was told that Paris cast member, "Dave" became a French pop star.

The 1971 Melbourne and 1972 Sydney recordings feature Rory Thomas as music director/pianist. They both contain interesting piano fills in the music, but the vocals (especially on the Jesus from the Melbourne cast) aren't as polished as they could be. Australian pop star, Colleen Hewett sang "Day by Day" on the Melbourne recording before she went on to play Catherine in the Australian production of Pippin.

de Giere: What is it like to hear Godspell in French or German?

Peters: I really love the Paris Cast recording. It is a joyous recording. It just has so much life. The nasal sound of some of the French vocalists takes some getting use to, though. Stephen Reinhardt (who was involved with the original American albums) was the musical director for this production. The backing musicians do a wonderful job. There is a nice interaction between the musicians as well a high level of musicianship. The Paris cast ranks in my top two or three Godspell recordings.

I am not as fond of the German Cast. The interesting thing about it is that American Disco Diva, Donna Summer sings "Bless the Lord" on the recording. Overall, I find the German cast a bit lifeless. If there is a common fault it most Godspell recordings it is a lack of spirit and spontaneity.

de Giere: Which albums include the "Prologue"? Do most of the later ones have "Beautiful City"?

Peters: The first one I found to have the Prologue was the 1993 London Studio Cast with Stephen Schwartz on piano. It was released on TER in the UK and Jay in the States in 1997. It is also the first recording of the new version of "Beautiful City" that was originally written for a production of Godspell that was to be staged in L.A. and set in the aftermath of the L.A. Riots.

There was a 1994 UK tour of Godspell that updated the score by using sequencers and drum machines to give the score a techno-dance feel. The production was recorded and it contained the prologue as well as the new "Beautiful City."

The last two Godspell recordings (2000 Off-Broadway & 2001 Tour) both contain versions of the prologue with up-dated lyrics that feature new philosophers. Both recordings have the new "Beautiful City." I enjoy both CDs. They are a welcome addition to the Godspell canon. I appreciate how they have updated the score to make it contemporary. The 2000 version manages to sound modern, while maintaining the essence of the original score. The 2001 version completely reworks and revamps the score. The score sounds very modern (I refer to it as the "Dave Matthews" Godspell) and worked well with the style of the tour.

de Giere: What are some of the subtle differences you notice between a cast recording, such as the 1971 London Cast and some of the London studio recordings. I'm also wondering if you like hearing choral interpretations of the show, such as the 42nd Street CD?

Peters: The 42nd Street recording (also called the C.C. Productions recording in the U.K.) is actually a knock off of the 1994 U.K. Tour that used Techno arrangements. The 42nd Street recorded just copies the other record.

It is common for the "studio cast" recordings to ape another recording. The Pickwick label in America released an LP with selections from Godspell. It imitates the London Cast recording. You can hear where they just listened to the record and picked up everything "by ear". They even sing wrong lyrics in the spots where it was difficult to understand the Original London Cast singer. They even copied the snippets of dialogue that the London cast used to begin the songs. Pickwick released two versions in the USA of the same record. The first had a cover that depicted an alarm clock with a traditional picture of Jesus as the hands on the face of the clock. In 1973 they re-released the LP with cover art that for all intent and purposes was a painting of Victor Garber. They were trying to confuse people into thinking it was recordings from the film.

de Giere: How did you find out about some of the unusual recordings on your list and are there any stories to tell about these?

Peters: The Internet has been my greatest tool lately. I bought the MFP cast (a London Cast "knock-off") and The Saga Pan (a London Cast "knock-off" featuring the band from the original production at the Roundhouse) recordings from eBay.

I got the Last Galaxie recording when I was about 14. (Last Galaxie is the name of the band) I went into my local record shop (the kind of shop that had turntables and listening booths so you could listen to the record before you bought it) and the woman that ran the shop knew I liked Godspell and she told me she just received the latest version of Godspell. I bought without listening to it. At 14 I probably wouldn't have bought it if I had listened to it. It was a slightly jazzed up reintepretation of the score. I recommend this recording for hard-core fans only.

Actually, the only recording I would tell people to stay away from is the 1998 Sydney cast. It was a production set in a 1920's speakeasy. The production even added new lyrics to the score and songs were performed out of order. To this day, I do not understand WHAT is happening in their Finale.

de Giere: Tell us about the Silver Anniversary recording.

Peters: Goatee, a Christian Music label released a version of the Original Cast recording aimed at selling in Christian bookstores. It has the same music, but the liner notes are by popular Christian artists explaining the impact of Godspell on the Christian community. Goatee released a documentary CD for Christian radio to promote the album. The documentary had interviews with Stephen Schwartz, Sonia Manzano, Paul Schaffer and current Christian performers discussing the history and impact of Godspell. The documentary came with a bonus CD containing four mixes of "By My Side" recorded by Out of Eden and The Katinas.

de Giere: How do you go about collecting foreign show albums and CDs? Are these readily available?

Peters: About half of the recordings I have are on record and are no longer available. It is really a shame in the case of the original London and Paris cast recordings. They were very good.

I am always looking for strange and different cast recordings. I shop Footlights and Colony Music in NYC once a year or so. I like Footlight Records down in the village. I keep up on Footlights website. Footlights will carry many of the same recordings for $20 or $30 cheaper than Colony. My favorite shop is Dress Circle in London. I get to London every couple of years and I also keep up with their website.

The Internet has helped a lot. I spend a lot of time on eBay as well as the international Amazon sites.

de Giere: It sound like you enjoy the search itself and that you would recommend the adventure of collecting.

Peters: Some people collect stamps, some build ships in bottles. I search websites, garage sales and used record stores for Godspell recordings.

Another site that's useful for cast album research in general is castalbums.org/online.html