Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Broadway Review: Jesus Christ Superstar (ish)

If you don’t know Jesus Christ Superstar, one of the preeminent rock operas, then you have been well out of the world of musical theater.  It is a famous show that has been made into a famous movie.  You may not have seen either one, but it is the rare person that doesn’t know the music, and even more rare, a person that doesn’t know the story.  And so, everyone enters with an idea of what the show will be like.
Chilina Kennedy, Josh Young and Paul Nolan
It is the story of the 5 days before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, from the viewpoint of Judas – a devoted apostle beginning to question the turn of events.  Judas sees the celebrity of Jesus overshadowing the message he brings.  Judas watches the action with a wary eye, noticing every misstep.  Chilina Kennedy plays Mary Magdalene as a counterpoint.  Mary watches the action seeing only the good; casting a loving gaze at Jesus and his teachings.  Ms. Kennedy is excellent in bringing a silent poignancy to the action.

Paul Nolan plays Jesus as a cipher, a choice of the original writers, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, redoubled here by director Des McAnuff.  Mr. Nolan’s Jesus is weary and ready to lay down his burden.  But, more than that, Jesus is a real dud here, coasting through his entry to Jerusalem based on his out of town notices.

As Judas, Josh Young is captivating.  His frustration with the proceedings grows, as Jesus won’t listen to his advice.  Judas is torn and looks for a way to correct the course of events.  But he has been chosen by God to do the ultimate betrayal. Mr. Young uses a powerful voice to bring his emotions out.  However, like Mr. Nolan and Ms. Kennedy, the singing voices are inconsistent.  Usually they are excellent – particularly Mr. Young’s, but they occasionally wander into odd directions simply to be different from the previous incarnations of the show.  That rarely works. 

Bruce Dow does Herrod
Tom Hewitt, as Pontius Pilate, is marvelous.  He captures both the ambivalence and frustration of the character and manages the stage with tremendous presence and voice.  Bruce Dow does a similar yeoman’s job with the showy King Herod role.  Together they illustrate what a frustrating and empty character Jesus is in this show.  Where their characters fill the stage, Jesus disappears into thin air right before us.

Artistically, the stage is wonderful, all modern steel that gives a defiant feel of an occupied land.  Musically, someone needs to turn down the orchestrations.  It was often difficult to hear the words of the songs as they were overpowered by the orchestra. 

Back to expectations.  It is impossible to go into this show without some serious ideas of what it should be.  (Indeed, along with the message to turn off cell-phones, there should be an announcement that this is not a sing-a-long!)  And so Jesus Christ Superstar has to compete with the audience’s expectations and memories.  This presentation is very good, but not good enough to overcome the problems inherent in the show.
Jesus Christ, Superstar at Neil Simon Theatre
Music and Lyrics: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
Director: Des McAnuff
Cast includes: Paul Nolan, Josh Young, Chilina Kennedy, Tom Hewitt, Bruce Dow, Marcus Nance, Aaron Walpole
Runs Through:

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