JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR dazzles at Bass Concert Hall
If you are like me and have a certain age (ahem!) Mainstream like JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. It may have even helped inspire you to explore theater and become critical later in life. Andrew Lloyd Webber was 23 when he composed it, teaming up with Tim Rice as a lyricist. This little concept album has become the most beloved British musical of all time, according to some sources. And when experiencing the musical, it’s important to keep in mind that this show is supposedly best designed as a concert, made from a concept. It doesn’t have a particularly strong narrative to move it between songs, lending it well to all kinds of staging creativity. But it’s also one of the best-known stories of Western civilization, right? We know how it ends, and many of us know all of the events leading up to the climax of this great show. And it’s a great show. It is not your grandmother’s SUPERSTAR JESUS CHRIST, and neither is it your mother’s. It is America’s Got Talent, The Voice, millennial genre of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.
Bursting with energy, the youthful ensemble of this show comes in from all around us, excited and inspired by this handsome blue-eyed rock star Jesus leading them. Except Judas since this version of the story is written from his point of view. A point of view that has largely contributed to qualifying this musical as sacrilege in its initial production. It’s not a popular opinion according to some accounts, but Judas was just trying to help, wasn’t he? Jesus should be very careful in raising the crush with the authorities as he did. Jesus could get killed. Still, the crowd doesn’t seem to care. They are busy making a star out of Jesus who is less messiah and more man in this story. He is almost wooden, shocked or tired perhaps, because of the way his story has been hijacked by the people around him – the crowd, his apostles, having to live up to an image he does not can not realize. It’s a celebrity story told in a time when anyone can get fifteen minutes of fame. Everyone has a story about Jesus, and he is lost in the stories others tell. It is easily a reflection of the current climate. Even the stowage and crucifixion in this production is made with glitter and gold. We hide the harsh things and glorify the suffering. Reflecting that, the show is awesome.
Lee curranthe lighting design becomes a testament to the concert concept, and the orchestra shares the stage with the actors. The crowd and the followers of Jesus are dressed in earthy and gray hues designed by Tom scutt. (It also feels a bit cramped up there, but whatever) It’s a post-apocalyptic, dusty, gritty, and barely rich JCS. It is a group of disjointed followers that this rising star messiah, with bun and guitar, has drawn around him. Drew McOnieThe choreography of is tight, brimming with the energy of the devout Pentacostals of the Appalachians. The music is a rich orchestration of classical rock, and even after years of listening to this music, I found a lot to hear that felt new and the ensemble was particularly magnificent in that regard. Wherever possible, we see the principals in this show using mics as if they were part of their world. Shared with each other, held in the hand, adjusted and, in many cases, double the function of accessories. Non-stop, the life of Jesus is on display over loudspeakers, reflecting a world where babies are born comfortably for everyone to see: Instagrammed, Facebook and Tweeted. Anyone can be a celebrity. It is a concept that is engaged and delivered in this show.
This is a refreshing and diverse cast, and in all of its iterations, it has been so with every production designed. However, while it’s not the fault of the great performers here, why do we always cast a black man to betray a white man? Guys, this might not be the coolest way to kick off the show anymore, despite what the mainstream cast might demand. Despite these particular optics, there is a lot of talent in this production. Aaron LaVigne gives us rising voices. Even in the shadow of John legendJesus on the NBC show last year, LeVigne has no problem wowing with his beautiful voice. James Delisco Beeks shows us a Judas struggling desperately with his relationship with Jesus, passionately fulfilling his role in this tragedy. Jenna rubaii is a gorgeous young Mary, and I can’t say enough about her inclusion as one of the disciples in a clever nod to a staging taken straight from Michelangelo’s Last Supper. Tommy sherlock like Pilate and Paul-Louis Both Lessard and Herod are an imposing presence. Especially Lessard, who is so adorned as a Herod that he must be taller than the costume. And I can’t move forward without a nod to the character who always tickles me the most in this musical: Caiaphas. Alvin crawford is big and bold and bass-y, and doesn’t disappoint.
The focus of this production is on celebrity at a breakneck pace with no intermission to slow it down. Keep this in mind when having a cocktail before the show. It also means that the real relationships these characters have with each other are lost in the fray. The staging and concept isolates the main characters from bonding with each other and doesn’t help with an already meager narrative. But it’s still a great story for many. So famous that most of us can fill in the blanks. As a result, however, I didn’t take much when I left. I felt a little empty. The opportunity to show us a powerful classic story through the relationship of two iconic characters, dare I say it, gets lost in the idea of fame. Perhaps that is the point, however. And it’s really sad.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
realized by Timothy sheader
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Bass concert hall
2350 Robert Dedman, UT campus.
For tickets visit www.broadwayinaustin.com
90-minute running time, no intermission